Openlands celebrates the proposed new state greenway master plan in Governor JB Pritzker’s budget


The $1 Million investment will begin the Illinois Route 53 Master Plan process for a new state nature corridor in Lake County 

 ‘A Vibrant Sunset’, Route 53 Photo Competition 2nd place winner for the under 18 category. Photo credit: Carter Conrad

Huan Song, Director of Communications

Yamys Urbano Valencia, Bilingual PR and Communications Specialist
(415) 712-5427

CHICAGO (February 21, 2024) – Openlands celebrates Governor JB Pritzker’s proposed investment of $1 Million to jumpstart a community planning process for a new state greenway along 1,100 acres of state-owned land in Lake County. The investment comes after the state ceased completion of the proposed Tri-County Access project in 2019, an effort by the Illinois Tollway to further extend new highway development through northwest Cook County, Lake County, and McHenry County. The proposed route included the Route 53 Extension, which did not make transportation or economic sense and would have impacted rare species and ecosystems.  

“With this proposed investment, Governor Pritzker continues to show he’s a national climate leader, embracing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and enrich lives for generations to come,” said Chris Kessler, Director of Policy at Openlands.  

Lake County has more threatened and endangered species than any other county in Illinois. It is also the most biodiverse area of the state. The now-defunct road is already home to wetlands, oak woodlands, and prairies, and the expanded protection of as many as 1,100 acres would provide critical ecological connectivity to safeguard habitats and wildlife. As the nation and world try to save 30% of our lands and waters before 2030, this state greenway is one of the biggest opportunities toward that goal in the metropolitan region.  

Map of proposed greenway in Lake County

The proposed greenway would also benefit residents and the economy. Studies show that for every dollar invested in conservation, eight dollars flow back to the community in the form of increasing property values, improving public health, and expanding tourism opportunities. The planning process will allow for diverse community voices to participate, creating an inviting space for people to recreate and connect to nature.  

“The battle over the Illinois Route 53 Tollway Extension project in Lake County is as old as Openlands itself, and our long-term advocacy and persistence have led us to this milestone,” said Michael Davidson, Openlands President and CEO. “This is a critical step forward and the result of the hard work of many dedicated individuals, elected officials, government agencies, and organizations that have worked alongside Openlands and the Green Corridor Coalition to protect open space throughout our region and move towards a more climate-resilient future.” 

He went on to say, “A Lake County greenway would make open space more accessible for Illinoisans by connecting with existing trail systems that span throughout the region and public transit options like Metra, which has lines with stops near the corridor’s northern terminus. Achieving this major milestone is a testament to our sustained advocacy and steadfast commitment, but this proposal is not yet a done deal. In the upcoming few months, the Illinois General Assembly will be discussing and voting on the budget. We seek continued support from advocates and elected officials to help us achieve this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our region.” 

Majestic Sandhill Crane’, Route 53 Photo Competition l Glass 2nd Place Winner Photo Credit: Cheryl Keegan

About Openlands 

Founded in 1963, Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and help balance and enrich our lives. As Chicago’s regional land trust, Openlands connects and energizes the region through strategic collaboration and local partnerships. We work closely with government agencies and policymakers to develop new environmental conservation plans and practices created with all individuals in mind. From establishing city parks and trails to stewarding large-scale landscapes and waters in Northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region, Openlands is committed to advancing nature-based solutions to mitigate the threats of biodiversity loss and climate change and create access to nature for all. For more information, please visit 


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