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President's Letter: The Forest Preserves Help Keep Our Communities Healthier

Throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County, there are endless ways to not only get outside, but to get healthier, too. At the same time, the Preserves are also a critical resource that helps keep Cook County healthy.

Whether residents are looking to take on Swallow Cliff Woods’ circuit of nearly 300 stairs or hit the trails for a walk, run or bike ride, folks can plan a heart-pumping exercise in the Forest Preserves. You’re also getting healthier from a peaceful, serene visit surrounded by picturesque landscapes —from a night under the stars at our campgrounds to dropping a line at one of our fishing lakes. Research shows that just spending time in nature is good for mental health and can help lower blood pressure, increase brain activity and improve sleep quality.

Beyond the mental and physical benefits of the Forest Preserves, our nearly 70,000 acres of natural land help keep communities healthy by working to clean our air and water. The Preserves have the capacity to absorb more than 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and can help prevent extreme flooding during periods of heavy rainfall.

The Preserves play a role in a healthy economy, too. The Forest Preserves of Cook County employs hundreds of full-time and part-time staff, as well as seasonal employees during the busy warmer months. And by partnering with organizations such as Friends of the Forest Preserves, Student Conservation Association, Forest Preserve Foundation and the Housing Authority of Cook County, we offer summer and year-round employment for more than 300 participants each year through the Conservation Corps programs. Two-thirds of the participants are high school youth, and three-fourths are people of color.

The economic benefits also extend beyond direct employment. We hire a wide range of professional services, from construction to videography to strategic planning. And the Preserves are a boon to local businesses that cater to visitors who hike, bike, fish, camp or otherwise enjoy time in outdoors. All told, the direct and indirect economic impact of the Forest Preserves is more than $400 million annually for Cook County.

So whether you are an avid user or someone who has never been to a forest preserve, every resident of Cook County is gaining some benefits from the Preserves. I hope you’re a visitor, though, and that you feel a bit better whenever you spend some time in the Preserves.