If you live in Chicagoland, you know that open space is disappearing.
If you are a lifelong resident of northeastern Illinois, you are no doubt feeling the absence of the fields and farms and marshes you remember from childhood. The little woodlots, the vaster expanses of wetlands and grasslands have all but disappeared, along with the feeling that there was a tangible separation between "city" and "suburbs," "development" and "nature."
Even newer residents have seen first hand the effects of sprawl: Snarled traffic passing empty strip malls on its way to half empty office parks in a nearly solid gridlock of buildings that spreads from Lake Michigan all the way to the middle of Kane County. The situation is worst in the area's most populous and oldest county - Cook County. While the population of Cook County increased only 4% between 1970 and 1990, development of open land increased 46%.
Land is becoming a very scarce commodity in Cook County and some of
the last large tracts of open space are threatened by development, such
as the Fitzjoy Farm Stable in Palos Park and Glenview Naval Air Base. It
is already too late to save the Techny property in the northeastern suburbs
which felt the bite of the bulldozer just this year. The Forest Preserves
are already home to more than 200 rare, endangered and threatened species.
The Illinois Natural Areas Inventory identified about 3,000 acres of undisturbed
natural areas in Cook County that are in desperate need of protection.
A 1994 plan devised by Cook County Forest Preserve District staff identified more than 40,000 acres that would be suitable for acquisition to expand the preserve system and especially to link existing preserves with "green corridors" between areas such as McGinnis and Tampier Sloughs in the Palos area and Poplar Creek, Crab Tree Nature Center and Spring Brook Preserve in the northwestern part of the county.
That land acquisition plan has been stuck in a Cook County Board Committee since 1994. Board Commissioners have been unwilling, for unexplained reasons, to act on the plan which would help the County fulfill its mission of protecting 75,000 acres of open space in the preserve system. Land has been developed at an alarming rate as Commissioners dilly dally about land acquisition. The rate of acquisition has dropped from an average of 2,500 acres per year from 1913 to 1922, to an average of 937 acres per year between 1951 and 1959 to an average of 125 acres per year between 1987 and 1993. In the last five years, just at the time when available open land began disappearing very fast, the County only added an average of 50 acres a year or 250 acres in total.
It's past time for the Cook County Board to approve its own land acquisition
plan and to immediately begin efforts to raise funds for land acquisition.
The easiest way for the county to raise necessary funds is by issuing bonds,
which requires a ballot referendum.
A $100 million bond referendum would be sufficient to purchase about 3,300 acres at about $30,000 per acre, roughly half of the 7,000 acres needed to bring the Cook County Forest Preserve system up to its 75,000 acre goal. Federal and state matching funds could help make up the difference and achieve th goal.
A bond referendum would cost a Cook County homeowner about $5.20 per year over the 20-year life of the bonds for a $150,000 residence. That's less than the cost for a meal for two at McDonald's these days! Preserving precious habitat would cost less than a movie ticket, much less than a Cubs ticket, even less than a week's worth of daily newspapers!
More than 40 million people use the Cook County Forest Preserves every year. About one million people, most of them children, visit the Forest Preserve District's six nature centers yearly. More than 10,000 picnic permits are issued every year. Busse Woods alone hosts 2.5 million visitors per year, more than Yellowstone National Park! Even people who live in the city of Chicago live less than half an hour from one of the Forest Preserves. Some of the most threatened remaining habitats are located in the Lake Calumet area in Chicago.
Kids and adults alike need open space to thrive. The measure of a civilized
society isn't in the number of buildings it can pack into limited acreage.
Like art, music and a good education, an appreciation of nature is one
of the vital signs of an advanced civilization.
Getting a $100 million bond referendum onto the ballot and making sure it passes is a big plan indeed. But conservationists have been lobbying Cook County Board Commissioners heavily in recent months and now, a majority seem to favor a resolution introduced by Commissioners Herb Schulman and Cal Sutker in December of 1997 that would place the bond referendum on the ballot. All that remains is to get President John Stroger to agree to put the measure up for a vote before the full Board and he has been resistant so far to moving the resolution out of its stalled position in committee.
You can urge your County Board Commissioner to approve the placement of a $100 million bond referendum on the ballot as soon as possible. You can find out who your Commissioner is by calling 312/443-5150.
Write to your Commissioner today and URGE them to support a $100 million bond referendum at: The County Building, Room 567, 118 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60602.
Copy your letter to Cook County Board President, John Stroger, in Room
569 at the same address.
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