Back in 2020, when seemingly out of nowhere, the majority of the world was kept indoors due to the spread of COVID-19, the power of nature to heal and rejuvenate became apparent. Nature became a safe haven from the isolation of quarantine and a place to heal and find respite from the collective grief experienced globally. In the Chicago region, residents flocked to local forest preserves, and in 2020, the number of visits to the Preserves rose from an estimated 62 million in a typical year to an estimated 100 million. Even now, visits remain high.
The pandemic reminded Cook County residents of the absolute importance of our local Forest Preserves. The Forest Preserves of Cook County is the first and largest forest preserve system in the U.S., with nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas where people can hike, fish, bike, camp, and even zipline.
Now the Forest Preserves need our support. With less than two weeks until election day on November 8th, Cook County voters have the opportunity to vote yes on a referendum to protect clean water sources, air quality, and wildlife for our residents to enjoy for generations to come.
The forest preserves provide benefits to every person in Cook County every day. The millions of trees contained within the preserves absorb pollution and clean our air, making it easier to breathe and reducing health complications such as asthma. The forest preserves’ waterways and wetlands filter rainwater, preventing pollution from entering streams, rivers, and lakes, and reducing flooding in our homes and neighborhoods.
For the first time in nearly a century, Cook County commissioners voted unanimously to put a referendum on the November 8th ballot that asks voters whether they would support a small property tax increase measure that would bring in about $40 million in revenue annually. That would amount to about $20 a year on a home in Cook County worth $300,000. This proposal will fund projects that support cleaner air and water quality, reduced flooding, and wildlife protection throughout Cook County, providing jobs to residents of all ages. Additionally, the Forest Preserves will use the new funding to address deferred maintenance on public lands, acquire new lands, and resolve pension shortfalls.
While tax increases are not usually widely supported, the measure has been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times, as well as the Civic Federation. Openlands has endorsed the upcoming Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s (FPDCC) property tax extension limitation law (PTELL) referendum with a coalition of 170 organizations and growing, and we encourage you to vote YES on November 8th toward the back of the ballot.
By voting YES for the Forest Preserves, you will help create hundreds of green jobs for county residents and help conserve millions of trees, prairies, and wetlands that absorb pollution, keep our air clean, clean our water, and protect wildlife. Make a plan to vote in the City of Chicago or Cook County, and tell others to vote YES, too!