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President's Letter: Uncovering Cook County’s Past in the Preserves

Summer is always a popular season at the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Our 300 miles of trails, free activities, six nature centers, three aquatic centers and new campgrounds offer something for everyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. But this summer is also a time where we’ve literally rolled up our sleeves. Teams of archaeologists have been working across the county in search of clues to our cultural past.

This effort is part of our Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan. The plan was released in March, and is the first formalized document that takes an in depth look at the state of the preserves, habitats and wildlife, with a strategy for restoration as well as a plan for the cultural resources found within the preserves.

Below the surface of our 69,000 acres of land are a treasure of prehistoric relics. I was amazed to learn that of the 1,200 archeological sites in Cook County, 46 percent are on Forest Preserve land. Only 20 percent of those sites have been systematically surveyed—until now. With the help of archeologists from the Prairie Research Institute (PRI), various sites are now being excavated. Already, teams have unearthed fragments of pottery and arrowheads from civilizations dating back nearly 10,000 years.

While our mission is about preserving and restoring our natural plant and wildlife, it is also important we record our cultural heritage, which is not a renewable resource. So many of our historical artifacts have been destroyed by urban development. This effort with PRI will give us a better glimpse into prehistoric Cook County, as well as a way to record and preserve this rich history for future generations.

Read about the work the PRI is doing in this Chicago Tribune article or this Daily Herald article.

Toni Preckwinkle, President
Forest Preserves of Cook County