60 Years and Counting
Since our founding in 1963 as a program of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, Openlands has been at the forefront of the urban conservation movement. As one of the first organizations in the United States to address environmental issues within a metropolitan region, we understand that people are essential to nature.
60 years later, Openlands remains committed to urban conservation in Northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region.
Founded as a program of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was authorized by Congress.
Saved Beall Woods, which was a prime oak-hickory forest in southern Illinois.
Received IRS tax-exemption to separate from the Metropolitan Welfare Council.
Saved Goose Lake Prairie, a 2,000-acre remnant of prairie, assisted by the Chicago Community Trust.
Lake Michigan Federation (now Alliance for the Great Lakes) became independent from Openlands.
Ryerson Woods Conservation Area Nature Preserve was established as a Lake County Forest Preserve and dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve.
Openlands helps pass a successful Referenda to establish the McHenry County Conservation District.
Supported and helped pass the Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance, to preserve the lakefront from encroaching development.
Began working on preserving the former site of the Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium (now North Park Village).
Openlands helps organize Friend of the Parks with the Business and Professional People for the Public Interest and the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council.
Friends of the Chicago River was established as a program of Openlands and has since become an independent organization.
Completed the compilation of photographs for An Open Land: Photographs of the Midwest. 1852–1982 (funded partly by National Endowment for the Arts). Exhibit opened at the Art Institute of Chicago and travelled around the country for three and a half years through 1986.
President Ronald Reagan signed legislation establishing Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.
Openlands launched NeighborWoods, Chicago’s first private volunteer tree planting and maintenance program.
Openlands coordinated Chicago’s first Christmas Tree recycling program.
NeighborWoods’ helped to prompt a major change in the City of Chicago’s stance on urban forestry, leading to improved tree maintenance and public education.
Openlands’ 21st Century Open Space Plan was launched.
Openlands launched its Urban Forestry Policy Initiative, expanding the urban forestry technical committee to include more “city players” and representation from TreeKeepers.
Northwestern Illinois Regional Greenways Plan was published.
Openlands’ Neighborhood Open Space Planning program was launched, with a focus on underserved Chicago neighborhoods.
The first year of a Treemendous Trees program ended with more than 30 nominations received for the largest trees of each species growing in northeastern Illinois. A potential national champion and four possible state champions were identified. Morton Arboretum co-sponsored the program.
Losing Ground: Land Consumption in the Chicago Region,1990–1998 was published.
The Asian Long Beetle (ALB) was found in Chicago. TreeKeepers was the only citizen group to assist in halting the ALB outbreak mainly through infected tree identification. This assisted in the eradication of ALB from Chicago in 2008.
Image by Dean Morewood
Terry Evans photography exhibit, In Place of Prairie, opens at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of Openlands’ 35th Anniversary celebration.
After leadership and advocacy from Openlands, President Bill Clinton signed legislation to create Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie at the former Joliet Arsenal.
Under Pressure: Land Consumption in the Chicago Region, 1998–2028 was published.
Building Urban Gardens program was launched with a focus on fostering community gardening through nature in underserved Chicago neighborhoods.
Openlands, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, the Chicago Audubon Society, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began restoration of Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland. In 2005, building off this partnership, CorLands began wetland restoration work at 5 public sites funded through the O'Hare Modernization program.
Troubled Waters: Meeting the future water needs of Illinois was published as a joint initiative with the Campaign for Sensible Growth and Metropolitan Planning Council.
Revealing Chicago: An Aerial Portrait photo exhibition opens at Millennium Park
The Emerald Ash Borer was first detected in Chicago and TreeKeepers were trained to monitor these beetles.
Image by Eric R. Day
Greenways and Blueways Plan for Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission was published as a joint initiative with NIRPC.
Building School Gardens Program began to create learning school gardens on CPS campuses and to provide professional development opportunities to teachers and administrators.
Before the Well Runs Dry: Ensuring Sustainable Water Supplies for Illinois was published as a joint initiative with Metropolitan Planning Council.
Openlands launched its Eco-Explorations program that connects classroom curriculum and lessons to nature at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve.
To protect regional open space treasures such as Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Openlands organized a coalition of 30 partners to oppose the proposed Illiana Tollway.
After a decade of work, Hackmatack was established as the region’s first National Wildlife Refuge, with the vision of protecting an eventual 20,000 acres along the Illinois-Wisconsin border.
Openlands became an accredited land trust. Openlands Lakeshore Preserve was recognized as an Illinois Nature Preserve.
Birds in My Neighborhood was launched with the goal to acquaint CPS students to nature by learning about and exploring birding in Chicago neighborhoods and surrounding large-scale landscapes
Openlands published a study with Friends of the Chicago River caked “Our Liquid Asset: The Economic Benefits of a Clean Chicago River.”
The Next Century Conservation Plan was formally accepted, providing a strategic vision for the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
The Chicago Region Trees Initiative began. The Morton Arboretum, Openlands, and other leading organizations from the Chicago Region formed a partnership to build a healthier and more diverse urban forest by 2040, and to leverage financial resources, knowledge, skills, and expertise in the field.
Openlands works with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in partnership with Healthy Schools Campaign to transform CPS schoolyards into vibrant places to play, learn, and be outside through a program called Space to Grow.
Openlands launched Paddle Illinois Water Trails, a comprehensive guide for canoeing and kayaking on the waterways of northeastern Illinois.
Openlands partners with Specktral Quartet for the world premiere of composer Tonia Ko’s Plain, Air at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, which inspired the music.
Openlands launched the Get Outside Map, a comprehensive tool for connecting people to parks, preserves, natural areas, and trails in the region.
Openlands debuted the African American Heritage Water Trail along the Little Calumet River.