News Updates

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Openlands President and CEO Honored for Leadership in Conservation

March 15, 2018

Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann will receive the 1st Annual Bluestem Earth Festival Award from the Joliet Franciscan Sisters and the Bluestem Earth Festival on April 8. The Bluestem Earth Festival Award recognizes an individual or organization who by example, leadership or advocacy, has demonstrated a commitment to building a more resilient, sustainable and socially equitable community as reflected by the corporate stances of the Joliet Franciscans.

Jerry Adelmann joined Openlands in 1980 to coordinate a special program that led to the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, the first federal land designation of its kind. In 1988, Jerry was appointed executive director of Openlands. Under his guidance, Openlands launched the 21st Century Open Space Plan, which called for expanded parklands, greenways, and trails in northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region. His leadership in creating Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie; in preserving the rare and scenic landscape at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve for public enjoyment; and many other conservation and preservation accomplishments has earned him numerous honors and conservation awards.

The Bluestem Earth Festival 2018: Living with Justice and Care is an effort of the Joliet Franciscan Sisters and Associates offering education and ideas for action, and will take place on Saturday, May 19 from 10am-3pm. Learn more.

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Register for the 2018 Environmental Lobby Day in Springfield

March 8, 2018

Registration is now open for the 2018 Environmental Lobby in Springfield, Illinois! Each year, Openlands’ partners at the Illinois Environmental Council, Faith in Place, and the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club coordinate an opportunity for you as a voter to meet with elected officials in Springfield and advocate for the open spaces, natural resources, and wildlife of Illinois.

The 2018 lobby day will take place on Thursday, April 26 and you will be able to join hundreds of environmental advocates, including the Openlands policy team, in asking our elected officials to support conservation in the Prairie State — no matter what happens in Washington.

Illinois Environmental Council asks that you register in advance. They are providing bus transportation from the Loop, Schaumburg, Waukegan, several stops on Chicago’s South Side, Peoria, and Champaign.

We look forward to seeing you in Springfield!

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Illinois’ Senators Co-Sponsor Bill to Protect the National Monuments

February 6, 2018

Senator Duckworth and Senator Durbin have co-sponsored a bill in the US Senate to increase protections for the National Monuments. The America’s Natural Treasures of Immeasurable Quality Unite, Inspire, and Together Improve the Economies of States (ANTIQUITIES) Act of 2018 reinforces Congress’ intent in the Antiquities Act of 1906: only Congress has the authority to modify a national monument designation.

The ANTIQUITIES Act of 2018 protects and enhances National Monuments by declaring Congress’ support for the 51 National Monuments established by presidents in both parties between January 1996 and April 2017 under their authority established by the Antiquities Act of 1906; reinforcing the existing laws, clearly stating that presidential proclamations designating National Monuments are valid and cannot be reduced or diminished, except by an act of Congress; and further enhances protections for the presidentially-designated monuments by requiring additional allocation of resources for the management, protection, and promotion of America’s National Monuments.

Openlands applauds the efforts of Senator Duckworth and Senator Durbin to support the National Monuments. National Monuments protect ecologically unique areas, they enshrine our national history, and they preserve the heritage and culture of indigenous nations. Further, we recognize that indigenous peoples across North America have looked to correct centuries of historical injustices by permanently protecting land through conservation – It is only right that we stand in solidarity with all people working towards this goal.

Our neighbors in the West supported us when we sought federal protections for landscapes in Illinois, so we are calling on our state’s elected leadership to show them the same support.

Learn more about the ANTIQUITIES Act of 2018.

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Help Restore Lake County’s Liberty Prairie Reserve This Winter and Spring

January 29, 2018

Openlands and Libertyville Township Open Space District are looking for volunteers to assist in restoration workdays at the Liberty Prairie Reserve. Volunteers will remove invasive brush, help in spreading native plant seeds, and assist as needed with prescribed burns.

Restoration workdays are scheduled to take place on the second Saturday of the month from 9am-12pm at one of two sites in the Liberty Prairie Reserve, Oak Openings Nature Preserve and Liberty Prairie Nature Preserve. Please register in advance by sending an email to


  • Saturday, February 10, 9am-12pm at Oak Openings Nature Preserve
  • Saturday, March 10, 9am-12pm at Liberty Prairie Nature Preserve
  • Saturday, April 14, 9am-12pm at Oak Openings Nature Preserve
  • Saturday, May 12, 9am-12pm at Liberty Prairie Nature Preserve

Oak Openings Nature Preserve is located on is located on the east side of Route 45, 0.5 miles south of Route 120 and just north of Casey Road. Please note: it is only accessible when traveling north on Route 45. Liberty Prairie Nature Preserve is located on the south side of Casey Road, approximately one mile east of Route 45 and approximate 0.5 miles west of Almond Road.

To register for a workday, please email

Related: Conserve Lake County has merged into Openlands

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Space to Grow Will Help Communities Transform Six CPS Schoolyards in 2018

January 12, 2018

Space to Grow, the award-winning green schools partnership managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands, is pleased to announce that six Chicago Public Schools will receive assistance in transforming their schoolyards into green learning campuses in 2018. Congratulations to the following schools:

  • Cook Elementary in Auburn-Gresham
  • Nathan Davis Elementary in Brighton Park
  • Fernwood Elementary in Washington Heights
  • Eugene Field Elementary in Rogers Park
  • Morton School of Excellence in Humboldt Park
  • Farnsworth Elementary School in Jefferson Park

Space to Grow uses a unique model that brings together multiple partners from regional agencies to local organizations and neighbors to help build stewardship, provide more opportunities for active play and physical education, outdoor learning and environmental literacy, and educate the community about the benefits of the school design while encouraging them to implement water management initiatives at home.

Space to Grow is co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands and brings together capital funds and leadership from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

For more information on Space to Grow, please visit

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Remembering a Longtime Partner, Supporter, and Friend of Openlands

January 4, 2018Fiske

On December 20, 2017, a longtime partner of Openlands, Kenneth Fiske, passed away at his home in McHenry County.

For more than 50 years, Ken provided private and professional efforts on behalf of open space protection and conservation. He was the founding executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District, retiring in 1985. Fiske served as a board member of many organizations including Openlands for 13 years (1985-1997), the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, the McHenry County Conservation Foundation, the Illinois Association of Conservation Districts, and the McHenry County Soil and Water Conservation District. Fiske was named Illinois Conservation Farmer of the Year in 1952; he and his wife were honored as 2004 Refuge Volunteers of the Year by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for efforts on preserving and restoring bird habitat in Hawaii and Florida; and in 2005, Ken was inducted into the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame of the Illinois Conservation Foundation.

Ken provided distinctive leadership in structuring the Material Service Wetland Fund which proved to be an unparalleled success, restoring over 2,000-acres in the lower Des Plaines River watershed including Lockport Prairie, Orland Grassland, and Sagawau Canyon Nature Preserve. Additionally, he assisted in the preparation of the North Park Village conservation easement that protected over 100 acres of City of Chicago owned property that is now home to the North Park Village Nature Center.

Openlands benefited greatly from Ken’s wealth of knowledge, experience, and willingness to share his expertise. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Openlands as it exists today without the active involvement of Ken. He was such a critical player, key advisor, and strategist for many years, and he helped shape the very nature and direction of the organization. We will miss Ken, and Openlands wants to express our tremendous appreciation for all his work to support our mission as well as conservation in our region.

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Join the 9th Annual KAMII Food Justice & Sustainability Weekend, January 13-14

January 3, 2018

KAM Isaiah Israel’s Food Justice and Sustainability Committee presents the 9th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Food Justice and Sustainability Weekend. The focus is on Climate Change and City Parks. The weekend program includes over 16 workshops by leading growers, environmentalists and social justice activists and a community design workshop where a Chicago park will be reimagined. The weekend aims to provide participants with powerful tools for change and a heightened motivation to work toward a greener, more equitable and sustainable world.

KAM Isaiah Israel, which is hosting the workshops, is located at 1100 East Hyde Park Boulevard, Chicago. All events are free and open to the public.

On Sunday, Openlands Director of Neighborhood Programs, Elvia Rodriguez Ochoa, will host a panel that includes Nicole Machuca from Friends of the Parks, Carolina Macias from the Chicago Park District, and Aasia Mohammad Castaneda from the Field Museum.

Learn more and register.

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Applications Open for Spring 2018 Openlands TreePlanters Grants

December 11, 2017

Openlands is now accepting applications for the spring 2018 TreePlanters Grants cycle. This grant provides new trees to communities in the City of Chicago and is designed to help build a network of volunteers among neighbors.

Applications for the spring grant cycle must be submitted by January 15, 2018. Learn more about the grants and how to apply.

Applications can be submitted on behalf of community groups, volunteer organizations, local businesses, and neighborhood associations. For any additional eligibility questions, please contact

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Negotiating Federal Tax Reform

December 9, 2017

Both chambers of the US Congress have passed a version of a sweeping tax reform bill. There are many reasons to oppose these bills.

The two versions of tax reform contained very different proposals, and those differences are now being resolved before both chambers vote again. One of the issues being negotiated is the elimination a provision known as the Johnson Amendment, which prevents non-profits and houses of worship from endorsing political candidates. The Johnson Amendment is essential for non-profits to carry out their mission unencumbered by political influence.

It is Openlands’ hope that that this and many other controversial provisions are removed from this tax reform plan before Congress votes again, but that will only happen if we contact our elected officials immediately.

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Stand with Bears Ears and Save Grand Staircase

December 8, 2017

On December 5, the president announced plans to overwhelmingly reduce the protections and boundaries of two National Monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Openlands adamantly opposes any effort to curtail protections for conserved federal lands, and we see this as a legal precedent to undo protections for conservation across the nation.

National Monuments protect ecologically unique areas, they enshrine our national history, and they preserve the heritage and culture of indigenous nations. Though no monuments are being rescinded, significant reductions represent a failure to consider these objectives.

Proponents of these reductions have lauded the action as a chance to transfer land to the State of Utah. Historically, when the Federal Government transfers lands to the states, 70% have been sold off resulting in deforestation, mining and pollution, and privatization. We unequivocally believe public lands ought to remain public.

But this issue is more than just an assault on the democratic rights instilled in public lands: the designation of these monuments was the result of decades of advocacy by native nations to protect their ancestral homes from development and to honor the health of these lands. This is an affront not just to those groups, but to all indigenous peoples who have looked to correct centuries of historical injustices by permanently protecting land through conservation – and that work extends to our home in the Midwest.

Openlands recognizes that the land we work to protect is land taken from the indigenous nations that lived here before us. Today we work to restore the land to health, to respect the land and the water, and to share these places with all people.

It is only right that we stand in solidarity with all people working towards this goal. Our neighbors in the West supported us when we sought federal protections for landscapes in Illinois, so we are calling on our state’s elected leadership to show them the same support.

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Improving Equity and Climate Resilience in Chicago

November 20, 2017

Openlands has been selected as one of 14 community-based nonprofit organizations in Chicago to receive a grant from Elevated Chicago, in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners. These grants are part of a new initiative that intends to strengthen racial equity, prosperity, and resiliency in Chicago neighborhoods by using transit-oriented development as the catalyst for progress and change.

Openlands Director of Regional Forestry, Daniella Pereira, received an “activation grant” intended for projects that will create awareness, learning opportunities, community participation, and public interest around the Elevated Chicago mission of promoting more equitable, healthy, sustainable, and culturally vibrant communities at and around the prioritized transit stations.

Pereira received the grant in order to encourage residents to improve their community’s health and climate resiliency by hosting a tree planting within a half mile of the California Pink Line station (2011 S California Ave.). Additionally, the grant will allow Openlands to provide technical assistance to community-based partners on upcoming tree plantings in the neighborhood.

Having joined Openlands in 2013, Daniella oversees the sustainable expansion of our Forestry programs, creates and strengthens our strategic partnerships, collaborates on urban forestry policy both locally and with the State’s Urban Forestry Committee, and leads Openlands’ role in the Chicago Region Trees Initiative.

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Join the Chicago Community Climate Forum on December 3

November 13, 2017

Openlands is helping to coordinate the upcoming Chicago Community Climate Forum at the Field Museum, Sunday, December 3 from 6-9pm. The event will bring together civic leaders and engaged residents with a focus on building strong communities and taking action on climate change in the Chicago region.

The Chicago Community Climate Forum will put a spotlight on actionable solutions and feature the stories and voices of local Chicago leaders about climate change and its many intersections with other issues, such as clean air and water, public health, and environmental, racial, and socioeconomic justice. Openlands is looking forward to welcoming world leaders to our city, and hoping to find meaningful solutions to the climate crisis.

Climate change is real and in the absence of federal leadership, climate action is progressing at the state, city, and local levels. Forums like this are an opportunity to engage civic leaders and decision-makers, demanding they support a climate action agenda for our region.

Register for the Chicago Community Climate Forum.

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Push for Harmful Transportation Proposal Ends Without Support

November 6, 2017

On Friday, November 3, a 60-day window closed that had allowed Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. (GLBT) to appeal an August 31 decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board to reject development of a harmful railway through our region. The GLBT railway would have carried hazardous substances, such as Bakken crude, around the edge of the Chicago metropolitan area and threatened clean water resources, such as the Kankakee and Rock rivers.

Stacy Meyers, Openlands Staff Attorney declared, “We are pleased to see this ill-conceived plan fade away without fanfare. The project ran contrary to all of the principles of resilient, livable communities that the region prioritized in GO TO 2040, our comprehensive land use and transportation plan. It would have been devastating: community drinking water supplies would have been put at risk by rail accidents and spills, state parks and protected natural lands would have been ruined, a pristine national water trail would have been polluted, and our state’s agricultural heritage would have been sacrificed.”

Tireless organizing at the local level helped defeat this proposal, and we want to thank our coalition of partners who supported this grassroots effort.

Openlands believes transportation and infrastructure projects should complement, rather than jeopardize our natural resources – and this proposal plainly ignored the negative impacts on numerous communities and critical open space. Openlands and our partners continue to lead dialogue with industry, local farmers, and government officials as to how our freight in our region can support agriculture and coexist with our globally significant natural resources, such as Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

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Announcing the Openlands Tree Fund

November 1, 2017

You can now show your support for a healthy, thriving urban forest in our region by supporting the Openlands Tree Fund. Chicago’s urban forest is vital to the health of our region, and as our climate changes, the urban forest plays a crucial role in mitigating the effects.

Gifts to the Tree Fund support our work to protect, steward, and grow Chicago’s Urban Forest. You can help care for the urban forest by making a donation to the Openlands Tree Fund.

Openlands Forestry team has planted nearly 5,000 trees across Chicago in the last four years. With the help of our TreeKeepers volunteers, we are the active stewards of Chicago’s urban forest.

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Help Monitor Bird Migration at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

October 4, 2017

Interested in learning more about bird watching and migration? Check out “The Big Sit” at Powers-Walker Historic Site in Glacial Park, this Sunday, October 8. The event lasts from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm, and visitors are welcome to stay for as long as they wish. Ranked as one of the top five locations in the region to view migratory birds, Glacial Park is currently the best way to experience the landscapes of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Whether you’re a beginner, expert, or just looking for a weekend family activity, all are welcome to come and help count birds as a part of National Wildlife Refuge Week.

Established in 2012, Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was created as the first federal wildlife refuge within 100 miles of Chicago. Hackmatack affords permanent conservation protections to the landscapes we are working to restore, and over time, the refuge will eventually encompass 11,200 acres of this glacial landscape.

In addition to excellent bird watching opportunities, Hackmatack offers over eight miles of trails, clear waters perfect for kayaking and canoeing, and key fishing spots along the shore of Nippersink Creek. There’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the refuge, so be sure to get out and explore if you attend Sunday’s event!

For more information on The Big Sit, please contact

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Park District Meetings Fail to Present Meaningful Information on the Future of Jackson Park

October 3, 2017

Last week’s Chicago Park District meetings on the future of Jackson Park once again showed the process is simply imprudent. There must be a proactive, comprehensive plan that lays out a vision for our parks and a framework to evaluate how future developments will impact transportation, affordable housing, nature and wildlife, economic growth, and public access to park amenities.

Openlands has advocated for an update to the 1999 plan for Chicago’s south parks. The Park District has taken the appropriate first steps in updating this plan, and we are pleased they’ve delayed the process to gather more community input. But all plans for Jackson Park, especially those of the Obama Foundation and Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, should likewise be delayed until the public understands their impact.

All summer we were promised more specific information, but once again, we were given nothing new last week and were told everything is preliminary. Without data, the Park District, nor the city, nor its residents can make informed decisions. The public deserves a transparent process, complete information, and to have their ideas and concerns taken seriously. You don’t start construction without a blueprint – we shouldn’t begin altering our parks without first a vision of what they should become.

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Coalition Advocates for Smart Solutions in Will County

October 2, 2017

As freight and industry expand in Will County, Openlands is advocating at all levels for growth to complement and enhance Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and surrounding natural and agricultural landscapes. Openlands has a deep connection with Midewin. We were one of the few conservation organizations on an advisory committee that worked with Congress to authorize the 19,000-acre federal natural area, and we have continued to help expand and restore its globally significant ecology.

Our ongoing efforts to support Midewin include advocating for smart growth in the area. The proposed Illiana Tollway, a 47-mile limited access toll road, poses a direct threat to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Not only would this project result in severe natural, cultural, and economic consequences for the region, but it may cost as much as $2.8 billion to complete. Additionally, the project would move so few trucks and cars that traffic analysts predict it will likely fail to bring in enough toll revenue to support itself for decades, if ever.

Recently, NorthPoint Development proposed a $1.2 billion, 2,000-acre industrial park in Will County. This project would bring heavy traffic and likely ruin the area’s quiet and safe quality of life.

Openlands continues to promote smarter alternatives for Will County to the Illiana Tollway and NorthPoint industrial park. These proposals would bring light-, noise-, and air pollution that threaten some of the rarest habitat in the world. Openlands focuses its coalition of 30 organizations to negotiate better transportation and development solutions. For instance, coalition members worked with Will County to adopt a freight plan that calls for consciously locating roads and development to preserve the natural and agricultural heritage in the Midewin area. Openlands continues to advocate for our goals of protecting the region’s natural resources and encouraging good land use planning.

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Openlands Applies for Reaccreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

September 29, 2017

In 2013, Openlands was accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance. As an accredited land trust, we apply best practices in land protection transactions and offer decades of experience in conserving the green spaces of the Chicago Wilderness region for all to enjoy.

Openlands is currently applying for renewal of accreditation. As part of our renewal application, the Land Trust Accreditation Commission invites public input and accepts signed, written comments on how Openlands complies with national quality standards.

To submit a comment on behalf of Openlands, please email by December 31, 2017. Comments may also be faxed or mailed to the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn: Public Comments at 518.587.3183 or to 36 Phila Street, Suite 2, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

As Chicago’s regional land trust, Openlands has helped to protect more than 55,000 acres in northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region, with projects such as the 77-acre Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, the 19,000-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, or the more than 2,500 acres placed under conservation easements.

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Nature Museum Exhibit Focuses on Works of Openlands Commissioned Artist

September 26, 2017

The artwork of Sharon Bladholm is the subject of a new exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Soils, Seeds, and Sprouts: Tropical and Temperate is a celebration of life, featuring works in bronze, glass, ceramic, and on paper integrate art, science, conservation, and the natural world into a seamless visual experience. The exhibit includes recreations of Bladholm’s original pieces permanently on display at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Openlands commissioned Bladholm to produce The Soil is Alive installation found today in the Preserve’s Bartlett Ravine.

Video: Marwen

Soil microorganisms are the largest unexplored source of genetic richness and diversity on the planet – the underground heroes of a healthy above-ground environment. Bladholm’s sculptures depict an array of indigenous microorganisms that inhabit the local soil, enriching the Preserve’s lush flora and native beauty. Openlands believes art in our open spaces gives voice to landscapes and offers a unique perspective to appreciate nature. The Preserve acts as a natural canvas for a wide array of such art.

On the evening of October 5, join Openlands and several of our partners for an open house at the Nature Museum to view the exhibit and learn about the importance of healthy soils. You can learn about steps to improve the health of soil where you live, hear about some simple composting tips, and explore the collections at the museum. Learn more and register.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is located in Lincoln Park at 2430 N Cannon Drive and is accessible via CTA bus routes 76, 151, and 156. The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is located in Highland Park, Illinois and is open to the public year-round. Begin planning your visit.

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Openlands Announces Final Explore Your Lakes & Rivers Paddling Event | Friday, September 22

September 12, 2017

Join Openlands for our final Explore Your Lakes & Rivers paddling event of the season on Friday, September 22 in Chicago’s Garfield Park. These paddling events are designed to encourage exploration of the water trails around the Chicago metropolitan region and provide opportunities for water trail stewardship. Our friends from Wilderness Inquiry are returning to Chicago with their massive canoemobiles!

Learn about the importance of natural areas to the migratory monarch butterfly, help clean up and restore Garfield Park, and learn about city stewardship opportunities from our partners at Faith in Place and Chicago Park District.

This paddling event is free and open to the public, and first time paddlers are encouraged to attend! Join us between 3-7pm and meet at Garfield Park’s Gold Dome Field House (100 N Central Ave, Chicago, IL 60624).

For more information and to register, please contact or call 312.863.6253. Download the flyer.

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Help Restore the Landscapes of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge this Fall

September 7, 2017

Openlands is looking for volunteers to assist with two restoration workdays this fall at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. September and October workdays will be held at Blackmon Tract (9613 N Route 12, Richmond, IL), an 11-acre open space site in the refuge boundaries that is owned by Openlands. Volunteers will aid in restoring Blackmon’s landscape by picking up trash, clearing invasive brush, and more.

In the last nine months alone, we have made tremendous progress with the help of our partners. Join us on September 23 from 1-3pm with volunteers from Illinois Sierra Club and students from Pritzker College Prep in Chicago or on October 14 9am-12pm.

You can spend part of your day assisting in restoration of the refuge and part of your day exploring nearby Glacial Park or paddling the Nippersink Creek!

All of the volunteer hours will support a Stewardship Challenge Grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, helping to purchase seeds and plants for ongoing restoration at the Blackmon Tract. For more information or to register, please contact or call 312.863.6257.

Since 2005, Openlands has worked to protect the ecologically significant landscapes found along the Illinois-Wisconsin border. Located in McHenry County, Illinois and Walworth County, Wisconsin, Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2012. It was created as the first federal wildlife refuge within 100 miles of Chicago and affords permanent conservation protections to the landscapes we are working to restore.

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Harmful Railway Proposal Rejected by Federal Regulators

August 31, 2017

Today the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) rejected an petition by Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. to build a new 261-mile rail corridor and discontinue the associated environmental review. The STB rejected the proposal because of a poorly prepared, incomplete application and a concern that the petitioners financial assets were wholly inadequate to pursue such a large project. Openlands, its conservation partners, and local farmers and farm organizations expressed a litany of serious concerns with the project at public hearings and in written comments.

The proposed railway would have carried hazardous substances, such as Bakken crude, around the edge of the Chicago metropolitan area and threatened clean water resources. It would have negatively impacted over 100 headwater streams, and several of the tri-state region’s highest quality large rivers such as the Kankakee, Rock, Lower Fox, and Kishwaukee. The Kankakee and Rock rivers provide community drinking water supplies which would have been put at risk of rail accidents and spills, a relatively common occurrence. Shallow groundwater aquifers, wetlands, and habitats for rare and protected terrestrial and aquatic species would have been harmed.

The proposal ran contrary to our vision for economic development in the metropolitan region as laid out in CMAP’s GO TO 2040 plan. Farms would have been split and fields land-locked. Land condemnation authority would have been given to a private business. Agricultural tile systems would have been made inoperable, wetland restoration projects would have been made more difficult, and road access for emergency services in rural communities would have blocked, causing longer response times.

Openlands believes transportation and infrastructure projects should not jeopardize our natural resources – and this proposal plainly ignored the negative impacts on vital water resources. Openlands and its partners continue to lead dialogue with industry, local farmers, and government officials as to how to protect nationally-renowned natural resources while effectively managing our commercial needs.

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Illinois Governor Signs the Natural Areas Stewardship Act

August 28, 2017

On Friday, August 25, Governor Rauner signed into law the Natural Areas Stewardship Act, which received unanimous support in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly. This act will better protect the last remaining fragments of Illinois’ wildlife and natural landscapes by allowing nonprofit conservation organizations to conduct needed stewardship and restoration projects on lands enrolled in the Illinois Nature Preserve System. The Illinois Nature Preserves are living museums, home to tallgrass prairie, oak savannas, sandstone bluffs, ravine ecosystems, and hundreds of rare wildlife species.

Openlands along with our partners at Illinois Environmental Council, The Nature Conservancy, Illinois Chapter, and the Prairie State Conservation Coalition led the effort to pass this vital support for conservation.

By applying for existing state funds, conservation land trusts can assist local and state agencies in caring for the 600+ Illinois Nature Preserve sites that provide habitat to 20% of Illinois conservation priority species. Openlands sincerely thanks Representative Tom Bennett (R-106) and Senator Jason Barickman (R-53) for their leadership in passing this agreement, the Governor for supporting conservation in Illinois, as well as our many members who contacted their elected leaders in support of this bill.

Openlands has helped acquire, restore, and maintain more than 40 sites in the Illinois Nature Preserve system, such as Glacial Park, the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, and Deer Grove East. The nature preserves belong to all Illinois residents; we encourage you to start exploring.

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Fall TreePlanters Grants Neighborhood Recipients Announced

August 18, 2017

Openlands is pleased to announce the neighborhood recipients of the 2017 fall TreePlanters Grants. These grants are for Chicago residents who have agreed to facilitate a community tree planting day with their neighbors, local businesses, and community organizations on parkways and in nearby parks. Congratulations to the following neighborhoods:

  • Hermosa (Kilpatrick Community Garden) – September 9 | Register
  • McKinley Park (Pershing & Hermitage) – September 16 | Register
  • Ravenswood Manner (2900 W Leland Avenue) – September 23 | Register
  • Little Village (the Jardincito & Marshall Blvd) – September 30 | Register
  • Douglas (3500-3800 S King Drive) – October 7 | Register
  • Lakewood Balmoral (throughout the historic district) | October 14 – Register
  • Hyde Park (5400 S Shore Drive) – October 21 | Register
  • Pullman (Pullman National Monument Visitors Center) – October 28 | Register
  • Beverly (2500 W 109th) – November 4 | Register

Interested volunteers should register in advance so we can communicate exact meeting locations. On planting days, Openlands and local TreeKeepers will assist volunteers and provide supplies. Neighborhoods will receive a variety of strong tree species include bur oaks, bald cypress, catalpa, and Kentucky coffee trees.

Openlands Forestry team has planted more than 4,000 trees across Chicago in the last four years. With the help of our TreeKeepers volunteers, we are the active stewards of Chicago’s urban forest.

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George Rabb

George Rabb, a Giant in the World of Conservation

July 28, 2017 | By Jerry Adelmann, Openlands President and CEO 

It is with great sadness that Openlands learned of the passing of Dr. George Rabb yesterday. George was a giant in the world of conservation who played such a seminal role on the local, national and world stage. He was a great mentor to countless individuals, including myself, and such a valued leader, colleague, and ethical voice of reason throughout his long and distinguished career.

George was the President Emeritus of the Chicago Zoological Society where he served in a staff capacity for nearly 50 years. In 1976, he took the helm of Brookfield Zoo and transformed the institution into a globally significant force for environmental education and conservation biology. His leadership was felt throughout the zoo and conservation communities, and he served in many significant international roles including as chairman for many years of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In Chicago, George was dean of conservation and one of the founders of Chicago Wilderness. He remained committed to its regional vision until his death. I had the great honor of serving with George on several boards, including the Illinois State Museum and the Center for Humans and Nature, which was founded by Strachan Donnelley. George was the recipient of many significant awards. In 2002 Openlands bestowed our Conservation Leadership Award on George at our annual luncheon in recognition of his lifetime commitment to the preservation of nature. He touched the hearts and minds of so many, and his influence lives on through the vast network of those who knew and loved him.

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A Step Forward for Protecting the Great Lakes

July 15, 2017

On July 11, the House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal 2018 Interior and Environment federal appropriations bill which includes full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million dollars. The GLRI aims to limit toxic pollution, such as mercury and PCBs, from entering drinking water sources and habitat for wildlife. It focuses on reducing runoff from developed areas and industrial sites while restoring the natural landscapes that surround the lakes, and the initiative aims to prevent invasive plant and animal species from threatening the region’s biodiversity.

Funding for the GLRI was eliminated in the budget proposed by the White House this spring, but advocates for the Great Lakes like you spoke up in overwhelming support for this vital program. However, we still need to secure funding for the GLRI in the final federal budget, which means we need to continue contacting our federal representatives and demand their support for the Great Lakes.

Thank you to our members who have spoke up already – please keep at it. Take action now to protect the Great Lakes.

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Illinois Budget Includes Support for Conservation

July 7, 2017

Illinois now has a budget, and it includes funding for conservation initiatives, open space protections, and climate action. The final budget appropriates $50 million for the renewable energy resource fund, nearly-complete funding of the Natural Areas Acquisition Fund which specifically protects high quality habitats and natural areas, complete funding of the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and $50 million in past Open Space Land Acquisition Development grants, which allow the State to support parks and outdoor spaces.

This funding was maintained because you spoke up and demanded action from our leaders. In the absence of federal leadership, conservation and climate action are progressing at the state, city, and local levels.

Openlands sends a special thanks to our members who took action on this issue, and we ask you to please take a moment to contact your representative requesting their continued support for conservation in Illinois.

Contact your state elected leaders in support of conservation.

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August Date Added for Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Paddling Series

July 6, 2017

Openlands is pleased to announce the next date for our popular Explore Your Lakes and Rivers paddling series. These events are designed to encourage exploration of the water trails around the Chicago metropolitan region and provide opportunities for water trail stewardship.

Please join us on Saturday, August 19 at Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Dam 1 Woods in Wheeling. Starting at 9:30am, we will explore the Upper Des Plaines River during a river cleanup. You can bring your own canoe, but we will have plenty to use, and lunch is provided. First-time paddlers are encouraged to attend!

This paddling event is free and open to the public, but please register in advance by contacting or call 312.863.6253. Download the flyer.

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Comprehensive Planning for the Future of Chicago’s South Parks

June 30, 2017 | By Jerry Adelmann, Openlands President and CEO

I attempted to attend the third community meeting on Chicago Park District’s updated framework plan for Jackson and South Shore parks. I was one of many turned away as the small venue soon filled to capacity. The size of crowds at each meeting underscored that the community cares passionately about these parks. They deserve a transparent public process, complete information, and to have their ideas and concerns taken seriously.

Jackson Park and its companion parks, Washington Park and the Midway Plaisance, were envisioned as a place for fostering democratic engagement—a place for people, social equity and civic life. Today the parks are clean and mown but lack richness and, as a result, lack the relevance or appreciation they are capable of engendering. We welcome the Obama Presidential Center. Without such a game-changer, these parks will not achieve what they could be.

But the Presidential Center has unleashed a myriad of other proposals each on their own a complex project. Taken together they create a complicated juggernaut—combining and rebuilding two golf courses, closing major roads and rerouting traffic, and construction of the presidential library and center. In response, the Park District has correctly identified the need to update their 1999 Plan for the south side parks.

We need to consider how the proposed changes will affect both the park and the surrounding neighborhoods, but these decisions cannot be made without good information. We have heard nothing on how the proposed road closings will impact traffic patterns and the adjacent neighborhood. We’ve heard nothing regarding CTA and Metra improvements. What are the City’s plans to avoid massive gentrification and displacement of present residents? The Park District has not explained how a championship caliber golf course will remain an affordable community asset and they have not offered details on how they will replace existing recreation resources slated for removal. Plans for the merger of the golf courses will expand the new course beyond the current footprint, remove hundreds, if not thousands of the park’s trees, destroy the beloved South Shore nature sanctuary, and reduce existing parkland. The course design also sidesteps the opportunity to relocate the existing driving range from east of the lagoons and return the grand east lawn to open public use.

Many people also felt strongly that there should not be winners or losers as the Obamas made their decision to choose Jackson or Washington Park. Now that Jackson Park has been selected as home for the presidential library and center it seems even more compelling to prepare plans for Washington Park and the Midway Plaisance. Celebrating a renaissance of these great urban parks by engaging residents in their planning and restoration would be transformative.

Openlands appreciates that the Park District has organized such a thorough public process for community members to voice their concerns. We want to see these parks thrive again, but piecemeal planning and lack of good data on how the city intends to fulfill the vision for the south parks creates a fragmented planning process and is disconcerting for those trying to engage.

These initial meetings are an important first step. Informed communities can together make informed decisions but only if the process is inclusive and transparent.

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Illinois State Budget Must Fund Conservation in the Prairie State

June 23, 2017

The Illinois Legislature has been called into a special session to resolve the state’s budget crisis. Illinois needs a budget, but it must include conservation funding.

A current proposal would strip all support for the state’s environmental programs, reversing the recent progress the state has made on conservation and climate action. It would end support for the Natural Areas Stewardship Act, cut funding to local parks, and cripple the Future Energy Jobs Act, which has been widely recognized as one of the most progressive climate action plans in the country.

Climate change is real and in the absence of federal leadership, climate action is progressing at the state, city, and local levels. Time and again, elected leaders have told Openlands that they need to hear from you, their constituents, in order to ensure state support for conservation.

Please speak up again so we can continue to protect the outdoors in the Prairie State.

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Partners Help with Stewardship of the Little Calumet River

June 19, 2017

On June 3, 2017 Openlands and partners continued the Explore Your Lakes and Rivers paddling series with the annual Little Calumet River Clean-Up Day at Kickapoo Woods in Riverdale, IL. We removed trash and debris from the Little Calumet River from our canoes, and offered free canoe and kayak lessons to volunteers.

An amazing 95 people turned out to clean up, explore this beautiful, wooded stretch of the Little Calumet River, and learn new paddling skills! We removed an estimated 450 pounds of trash from the river, including old tires, bottles, cans, and even a couch!

Many paddlers used canoes and kayaks provided by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Friends of the Chicago River, and Chicago River Canoe and Kayak, and a few brought their own boats. A goal of Explore Your Lakes and Rivers is to acquaint local residents with water trails in their own neighborhoods and provide opportunities for water trail stewardship. The section of the Little Calumet that flows through Kickapoo Woods is a shallow stream, great for beginners and families with children. It is also a great place to see wildlife such as turtles and great blue herons.

Explore Your Lakes and Rivers events are all open to the public. If you are interested in attending a future event, please contact or call 312.863.6253.

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Board Member Mark Harris Traverses Scotland as a Tribute to Openlands

June 8, 2017


Vice Chairman of the Openlands Board of Directors Mark M. Harris is beginning a trek across Scotland’s West Highland Way as a tribute to Openlands. The 95-mile hike cuts across the west coast, stretching from just north of Glasgow to Fort William, and it is among the best hikes in the United Kingdom.

Mark is accompanied by his two now-adult children, Marni and Nate. “Growing up, my family introduced me to nature,” explains Mark. “My dad was a big fisherman and my mom loved tennis. They introduced me to the outside, the open air, and being out and active. I also participated in summer camps when I was young, which was a great introduction.” An enthusiastic camper, canoeist, kayaker, and fisherman, Mark was first exposed to Openlands through our work to protect and establish new greenways and water trails in the Chicago region.

The West Highland Way through Glencoe, Scotland.

Having joined the Openlands Board of Directors in 2012, Mark sees his involvement as a way to support Openlands further. “My family and I love the outdoors, and there are plentiful opportunities in our region to get out and about. We use the wonderful open space that Openlands makes possible, including the Lakeshore Preserve. We’ve enjoyed going out to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and taking advantage of the bike trails and hiking paths.”

The trip is expected to take just over a week, and Mark has asked his friends to consider supporting Openlands as an acknowledgement of his trek. “I’m hoping [they] will consider a donation to acknowledge my walk (or just to help out). I would be honored.” While Mark is exploring the Scottish Highlands, his impact will be felt right here in the Chicago region, and Openlands expresses our deepest gratitude for Mark’s innovative way to show his support.

We will continue to follow and update you on Mark’s progress, and you can make a contribution to acknowledge his trip here.

Photo: Patrick Williams
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Mayor Emanuel Commits Chicago to the Paris Climate Agreement

June 7, 2017

Today, Mayor Emanuel committed the City of Chicago to fulfilling the Paris Climate Agreement. The Paris Climate Agreement embodies a global response to the decades-long scientific consensus that human activity is causing global temperatures to rise at unprecedented rates. The Mayor pledged that Chicago will meet or exceed the emissions reductions outlined in the 2016 UN agreement.

Climate change is real and in the absence of federal leadership, climate action is progressing at the regional, state, city, and local levels. Local programs, like our TreeKeepers volunteers, Space to Grow, and open spaces restorations, are doing this work in partnership with local leaders. We strongly commend the Mayor’s leadership to ensure a resilient future for the city and our region, and we look forward to continued partnership.

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Our Sincerest Appreciation to Lenore Beyer

May 31, 2017

Longtime Openlander Lenore Beyer has accepted an exciting new role as Director of Conservation Programs with the Kinship Foundation in Chicago. Those of us who know her will recognize that this is a promising new chapter for Lenore. In her new position, she will develop and manage the strategies and activities for the Foundation’s conservation programs including Food: Land: Opportunity, focusing on local sustainable food systems, and she will support the Kinship Conservation Fellows program to foster the next generation of conservation leaders.

Since 2005, Lenore has served Openlands passionately. As the outgoing Vice President of Policy and Planning, she oversees our legislative and advocacy efforts at the local, state, regional, and national level. She also manages our Space to Grow team, our education programs, and our community gardening efforts. In addition to her current breadth of responsibilities, Lenore leaves an extraordinary legacy of her time with Openlands.

Lenore was instrumental in authoring and implementing the Next Century Conservation Plan for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. She pioneered Openlands’ effort to facilitate relationships between local farmers and conservationists, which built on her work with the McHenry County Local Food Assessment and her role in expanding agricultural conservation in the Chicago region. She led our work on water supply planning, our defense of an open lakefront, and our support for forest preserves and conservation districts across Illinois. Under her leadership, our policy team successfully advocated for the Illinois Recreation Use of Land and Water Areas Act, the Natural Areas Stewardship Act, and the ongoing protection of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Lenore has also been a true leader of conservation, representing Openlands in the Vital Lands Illinois coalition and serving as Board President for Illinois Environmental Council. And most of all, Lenore played a quintessential role in the establishment of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, the first National Wildlife Refuge in the Chicago region.

While we will miss her greatly, we could not be more proud of Lenore. With her in this new role, we know the future of conservation in Illinois is bright. All of us owe Lenore a tremendous debt of gratitude for her years of leadership, and we look forward to continued partnership.

Lenore, we wish you the very best.

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Applications Open for Openlands TreePlanters Grants

May 20, 2017

Openlands Forestry team is now accepting TreePlanters Grants applications for the fall planting season (September-November). This grant is for Chicago residents who would like to facilitate a community tree planting day with their neighbors.

By engaging neighbors, local businesses and organizations, the applicant will identify locations for a planting (typically 10 to 40 trees), as well as volunteers interested in planting them. If you applied for, but did not receive a spring 2017 TreePlanters Grant, your application will be reconsidered for fall.

Applications for fall 2017 must be submitted by June 15. Learn more.

Openlands has planted more than 4,000 trees in Chicago in the last four years. Together with the help of our TreeKeepers volunteers, we are the active stewards of Chicago’s urban forest.

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Openlands Applauds Mayor Emanuel’s Effort to Advance Local Climate Action

May 10, 2017

On Saturday, May 6, Mayor Emanuel introduced a new section to the City of Chicago’s website which will host a copy of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s information on climate change, as well as the EPA’s data on how climate change impacts the Midwest, the Great Lakes, and Illinois. These pages were erased from the EPA’s own website after Administrator Pruitt was confirmed by the Senate in February.

Climate change is real and in the absence of federal leadership, climate action is progressing at the regional, state, city, and local levels. Much of Openlands’ work seeks solutions to climate adaptation and mitigation, and we look to build a resilient future for our region as well as our local communities.

Openlands applauds the Mayor’s initiative, and we are committed to continued regional and local action to address the challenge of climate change.

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Dates Added for Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Series

April 28, 2017

Openlands is please to announce two additional spring dates for our popular Explore Your Lakes and Rivers paddling series. These events are designed to encourage exploration of the water trails around the Chicago metropolitan region, and they are open to the public!

Please join us on Saturday, May 13 from 1:30-4:30pm for canoeing on Powderhorn Lake! Located in the Hegewisch neighborhood, Powderhorn Lake is one of the best paddling sites in Cook County, and you can spend the morning exploring Wolf Lake just to the north. Canoeing is open to everyone ages 5 and up. Download the flyer.

On Saturday, June 3 join Openlands for a day devoted to exploring and cleaning-up the Little Calumet River. This day’s events will take place at Kickapoo Woods in Riverdale, from 9:30am-3pm. Beginner canoe and kayak lessons are also available for kids ages 5-20! Download the flyer.

For more information on the Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Series, please contact

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Save the Date: Openlands Annual Luncheon

April 27, 2017

Openlands is pleased to announced the date of the 2017 Openlands Annual Luncheon. Join the Chicago conservation community on Thursday, November 9, 2017, at the Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Avenue. The reception and networking hour will begin at 10:30am, and the the program will begin at 12pm.

The Openlands Annual Luncheon—the largest gathering of conservation leaders in the Chicago region—honors the recipient of the Openlands Conservation Leadership Award. Founded in 1963, Openlands is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations, having helped secure, protect, and provide public access to more than 55,000 acres of land for parks, forest preserves, wildlife refuges, land and water greenway corridors, and urban gardens.

For ticket and sponsorship information, please contact or call 312-863-6261.

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Information on the Federal Executive Order Reviewing National Monument Designations

April 26, 2017

The Trump Administration issued an Executive Order today that directly threatens the past, present, and future of public lands in America. Calling it an “egregious abuse of power,” Trump’s Executive Order begins the process of removing federal protections from National Monuments created through the Antiquities Act.

The American Antiquities Act allows Presidents to declare and reserve National Monuments as “places of historic or scientific interest.” Since 1906, 16 Presidents have designated 157 National Monuments, including President Obama’s declaration of Pullman National Monument in 2015. Of these National Monuments, 29 have since been upgraded to National Park status, the highest and most esteemed designation that land can receive.

Today’s Executive Order instructs the Department of Interior to review National Monuments, created since 1996, that are 100,000 acres or greater in size (there are 24) and recommend options to resize or rescind them within the next 120 days. No President has ever rescinded a National Monument or reduced its size without achieving greater conservation goals. Only Congress has clear authority to rescind National Monuments.

This action tests the legal and political bounds of the President’s ability to destroy decades of land protection success. It is a dangerous step toward what could be a future threat to National Wildlife Refuges and National Tallgrass Prairies in our region.

Openlands values America’s public lands. While this executive order will not affect the National Monuments in the Chicago region, we encourage you to voice your opposition to your federal elected officials. If Congress prepares a vote on rescinding a National Monument designation, we will be in touch with information for contacting your congressional leaders.

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Openlands’ Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Series Continues this Spring

April 5, 2017

Openlands’ Explore Your Lakes and Rivers series will continue this spring with the first two exploration days taking place at Ping Tom Park. On Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29, join Openlands, Faith in Place, Wilderness Inquiry, and Ping Tom Park Advisory Council as we explore the South Branch of the Chicago River.

No experience necessary and all canoe rides guided by expert paddlers. Saturday will also feature a park clean up and sharing of migration stories—how families came to Chicago.

Join us Friday from 3-7pm or Saturday from 1:30-5:30pm. Download the flyer.

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An Update on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Related Federal Proposals

April 3, 2017

Openlands has been closely monitoring developments on the federal level that directly impact the open spaces of the Chicago region. There are several positive updates relating to support for the Great Lakes, but we encourage you to contact your elected officials and demand they protect the lakes.

  • Following messages sent by supporters of Openlands, 15 of Illinois’ 18 members of Congress have signed a letter that advocates for funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) at $300 million in the upcoming federal budget. The GLRI aims to limit toxic pollution, such as mercury and PCBs, from entering drinking water sources and habitat for wildlife. Both of Illinois’ senators have also spoken out against budget proposals that eliminate funding for the GLRI.
  • Congressman Mike Quigley (IL-5), as a member of the House Great Lakes Task Force, has introduced legislation that provides the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Great Lakes Science Center with the dedicated funding it needs to conduct critical research and support the $7 billion Great Lakes sport and commercial fishery industry. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.
  • Congressman Brad Schneider (IL-10) has introduced the CLIMATE Act, which is legislation to prevent the implementation of President Trump’s recent executive order that rolls back environmental protections and severely weakens efforts to address global climate change.

Illinois’ elected leaders fill positions in Congress key to advocating for the natural resources and open spaces of the Chicago metropolitan area, but they need to hear from you. Senator Tammy Duckworth is the minority leader on a subcommittee which oversees resources that directly support conservation, and Openlands has been in contact with her staff. But now, more than ever, we need your voice.

Learn about the impacts of the proposed federal budget and contact your congressional leaders.

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A Statement from Openlands President and CEO, Jerry Adelmann, Regarding the Proposed Federal Budget

March 17, 2017

Friends and Fellow Openlanders,

We are monitoring events at the Federal level closely.

As you certainly have heard, this week the Trump Administration proposed a Federal budget that includes drastic cuts to critical environmental and social programs. We wanted to draw your attention to some of the proposed cuts that directly affect the open spaces of the Chicago metropolitan region:

  • The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) is eliminated. The GLRI is an eight-state, binational, bipartisan effort to clean up polluted areas left by our region’s industrial legacy and restore them to their natural conditions. The Great Lakes provide drinking water to 30 million Americans, they sustain the region’s economy and agriculture, and they offer expansive habitat for wildlife.
  • Funding for National Heritage Areas (NHAs) is eliminated. Chicago became the birthplace of NHAs when I helped to establish the Illinois and Michigan Canal NHA under President Reagan. Pending proposals to expand this wildly popular program in Chicago, through the creation of the Calumet and Black Metropolis NHAs, would be scrapped.
  • Many other foundational land protection programs are deemed ‘low priority’ and eliminated. Although the specifics of this budget proposal remain hidden from the public, Openlands’ ongoing efforts to establish Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and expand Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie will almost certainly be affected.

From our founding, Openlands has worked to connect people to nature. We remain committed to building community at the local level through education, empowerment, and access to nature. We remain committed to inclusion, public participation in decision making, and science-based actions. And we remain committed to protecting open spaces and natural resources for generations to come.

We are thoroughly investigating how these budget proposals will impact our mission and will share more information with you early next week.

Thank you for your continued support,

Jerry Adelmann
Openlands President and CEO

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Completing a Final Circuit on the Grand Illinois Trail

March 14, 2017

Openlands has been assisting local governments in McHenry County to complete one of the remaining links of the Grand Illinois Trail. The 500-mile loop through northern Illinois, which links existing bike and recreation trails into this impressive resource for residents, has been a project of the Illinois Department of Resources since the mid-1990s.

This link in McHenry County would bring the trail through the town of Harvard for the first time (below in yellow), offering a layover point on the path between Richmond and Rockford. Previously, the trail wound north of Harvard towards the Wisconsin border (in red), directing riders along back roads while offering no rest areas or services on the long stretch between Richmond and Rockford.

GIT McHenry New

The proposed new route winds through the town of Harvard as originally envisioned. Prior to 2008, private developers intended to create a trail link through Harvard, but the recession halted those plans. The completion of this link would further support the renewed interest in eco-tourism throughout McHenry County and provide remarkable views of this region’s unique landscapes. This section of the Grand Illinois Trail offers trail connections from northwest Illinois to Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and the Nippersink Creek, one of Illinois’ most pristine waterways. Additionally, the proposed route would better connect the Long Prairie Trail in Boone County to the Hebron Trail in McHenry County.

The new trail connection would be a prime example of smart planning: it would redirect riders along 20 miles of quiet roads while bringing them into the town of Harvard to support the local economy. Openlands looks forward to the improved access to Hackmatack brought by the proposal and the increase in outdoor recreation, and we hope the local agencies in McHenry County will adopt the new route.

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Openlands Announces Recipients of the Spring 2017 TreePlanters Grants

March 13, 2017

Openlands is pleased to announce neighborhood recipients for the spring 2017 TreePlanters Grants. These neighborhoods have demonstrated a commitment to organizing their communities, to improving the health and wellness of their neighbors, and to greening their streets and parks. Applicants were responsible for identifying planting locations on public land and gathering a group of interested volunteers. Congratulations to the following communities:

  • Rogers Park – Saturday, April  1
  • West Beverly  – Wednesday, April 12
  • Uptown – Thursday, April 13
  • Englewood  – Saturday, April 15
  • Forest Glen – Saturday, April 22
  • Edgebrook  – Saturday, April 29
  • Norwood Park  – Saturday, May 6
  • Grand Boulevard – Saturday, May 13
  • South Shore – Saturday, May 20
  • Logan Square – Saturday, May 27

All planting events begin at 9am and please register for your neighborhood’s event for any additional updates on the plantings. Spring applications that were not awarded a grant will be considered for a fall planting.

Join the Openlands Community and apply now for a fall 2017 TreePlanters Grant! These grants are for Chicago residents and are an excellent way to take responsibility for caring for our city and our urban forest. For more information on TreePlanters Grants, please contact or call 312.863.6271.

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Deer Grove East Earns Illinois Land and Water Reserve Designation

February 7, 2017

On January 24, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission approved the designation of approximately 220 acres of Deer Grove East in Palatine, IL as the Jens Jensen Grasslands and Woods Land and Water Reserve. The new Jensen Land and Water Reserve includes Openlands’ restoration area and the buffer area at Deer Grove East.

The approval recognizes the restoration area and buffer as being of regional and state-wide ecological significance and honors one of the founding fathers of the Forest Preserves of Cook County. As a part of the approval, the Forest Preserves will convey a perpetual conservation easement over the restoration area to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. Visitors are encouraged to visit the preserve.

In addition to the Jensen Land and Water Reserve Openlands is working with the Forest Preserves on the restoration of 238 acres of Deer Grove West which is also dedicated under the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission system. Beyond Deer Grove, Openlands is working with the Forest Preserves and Illinois Nature Preserves Commission expand the existing Bartel Grassland Land and Water Reserve to include Bobolink Meadow. Both the Jens Jensen and proposed Bobolink Meadow dedications further restoration and dedication goals in the Forest Preserves’s Next Century Conservation Plan.

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Openlands Announces Recipients of 2017 Neighborhood Mini-Grants

January 10, 2017

Openlands is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2016 Neighborhood Mini-Grants. This grant program supports community gardeners growing food in publicly accessible green spaces, providing funds for upcoming projects in 2017 as well as a jump-start to further fundraising. Congratulations to the following:

Congratulations to these cycle’s recipients and for more information on the Neighborhood Mini-Grants Program, please contact or call 312.863.6255.

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Openlands Helps Enhance a Historic Landmark with New Park in the City of Chicago

December 8, 2016


Openlands has been working in partnership with the City of Chicago to assemble land for a new eight-acre park. Located in the Washington Park neighborhood and anchored by the historic Raber House, this will be one of the largest new parks within the City in many years. The Raber House, now city-owned, was built in 1870 as the Italianate-style residence of John Raber, a prominent area businessman, real-estate developer, and politician. The Raber House is one of few remaining residences that survived the Great Fire of 1871 and in 1996 was designated as an official Chicago landmark.

Openlands’ role so far has been to work with willing sellers in this area to secure land for the future park. We have successfully acquired two parcels, completed demolition in preparation for new park uses, and transferred the sites to the City. In November 2016, Openlands transferred a third parcel to the City of Chicago, which included a newer house which Openlands had been leasing to the operator of the nearby Perry Avenue Community Farm. Located within the footprint of the new park, Perry Avenue Community Farm represents the creative re-use of a former abandoned Chicago Public Schools site. Having a home base for the urban agriculture farm greatly enhanced operations, providing space for meetings, training, storage, food preparation, and even relief from inclement weather. The City will continue to lease the house to the Perry Avenue Community Farm, and Openlands will continue to support the City’s acquisition efforts until the full Raber Park is complete.

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Openlands and Healthy Schools Campaign Transform Three Schoolyards in 2016 Through Space to Grow Partnership

December 5, 2016

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Openlands is pleased to announce the opening of three new schoolyards completed through our Space to Grow partnership. Construction began in August at Corkery Elementary School in Little Village, Gunsaulus Elementary Scholastic Academy in Brighton Park, and James Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn, and all were open to the school communities by the end of November.

Each schoolyard is designed based on input from the entire school community. Students, staff, parents, and community members are invited to participate in the inclusive planning process, allowing for the unique needs and vision of the entire school community to be communicated and addressed in the design of their schoolyard. Furthermore, the designs also incorporate stormwater management features, which keep rainwater on-site and prevent flooding in nearby homes.

Space to Grow recognizes that each school community is unique, and their unique attributes are reflected in each design. While no two schoolyards are the same, all the schoolyards achieve the following goals in a variety of ways:

  • Health and Wellness: design elements include turf fields, running tracks, basketball courts, or play equipment to encourage recreation and exercise.
  • Outdoor Learning: design elements include outdoor classrooms, edible gardens, native gardens and trees, and seating areas to enhance education opportunities.
  • Stormwater Management: design elements use rain gardens, cisterns, runnels, and permeable materials, such as permeable asphalt, turf, and playground surfacing, to capture runoff and reduce flooding.

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Before its Space to Grow redesign, the schoolyard at Wadsworth Elementary School had one playground that was in dire need of repair, and the rest of the schoolyard was crumbling asphalt. The new schoolyard at Wadsworth (above) includes a large multi-purpose turf field with a running track, two half-court basketball courts, two age-appropriate playgrounds, edible gardens, gardens of native plants and trees, rain gardens, an outdoor classroom, wood fencing intended as a canvas for a future art project, and a cistern that collects runoff as part of an advanced stormwater management system, which can store 130,000 gallons underground.

The new schoolyard at Wadsworth was officially opened on November 29, 2016; Gunsaulus opened on November 14; and Corkery on November 10. This fall, all three schoolyard transformations were captured as time-lapse videos.

Space to Grow is co-managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands, and brings together capital funds and leadership from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. Through this partnership, nine CPS schoolyards have been transformed into vibrant spaces to play, learn, garden and be outside.

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