News Updates

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Openlands Announces Fall 2018 TreePlanters Grant Recipient Neighborhoods

August 30, 2018

Openlands is pleased to announce the neighborhood recipients of the fall 2018 TreePlanters Grants. These grants are for Chicago residents and communities in the south suburbs 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 communities:

  • Saturday, September 9 | William W. Powers State Recreation Area | Volunteer
  • Saturday, September 22 | Blue Island | Volunteer
  • Saturday, September 29 | Hyde Park | Volunteer
  • Saturday, October 6 | Englewood | Volunteer
  • Saturday, October 13 | Indian Ridge Marsh | Volunteer
  • Saturday, October 20 | East Side | Volunteer
  • Saturday, October 27 | University Park | Volunteer
  • Saturday, November 3 | Little Village

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

Learn more and register.

Openlands Forestry team has planted more than 5,000 trees across the Chicago area 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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Join a Weekend of Paddling, Tree Planting, and Camping at William Powers State Recreation Area

August 20, 2018

Join Openlands and the Forest Preserves of Cook County for a day of stewardship, paddling, and camping! On Saturday, September 8, help plant native trees and learn how they help improve water quality. That afternoon, there will be a paddling trip on the Little Calumet River from Gouwens Park to Kickapoo Woods. Participants will have the option to shuttle or paddle back. Dinner and camping will take place at Shabbona Woods Campground in South Holland. All paddling supplies will be provided.

The weekend starts at 9am on Saturday. Email Openlands Aquatic Ecologist Laura Barghusen at with questions.

Stewardship, Paddling, and Camping
Saturday, September 8 – Sunday, September 9
Meet at William Powers State Recreation Area
12949 S. Avenue O
Chicago, IL 60633


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Openlands’ Statement on a New Regional Park along the North Branch of the Chicago River

June 29, 2018

Openlands is a 55-year-old conservation organization that has the distinction of working with residents in neighborhoods across Chicago as-well-as working throughout the multi-county Chicago region to shape and inspire region-wide solutions. That marriage of local and regional effectiveness distinguishes Openlands.

Our experience has shaped our understanding the deep values inherent in both. We believe that all people should have access to nature close to home. The North Branch Park and Nature Preserve provides this opportunity. This is how:

  • The Chicago River is a regional resource, just like Lake Michigan. It demands a city-wide open space just like Chicago’s lakefront parks.
  • Embracing the idea of a large park on the Chicago River does not preclude the development of smaller, neighborhood parks as proposed in the redevelopment plan. This comfortable and compelling mix of local and city-wide open space amenities has been a cornerstone of Chicago’s park system for over 100-years.
  • The opportunities presented in the North Branch Park proposal compels us all to consider and take action on what we say matters; the ideal of the Chicago River as the City’s second waterfront, focused on people and nature.

Let’s not take sides or dwell on our differing views about the specific plan before us. Let’s instead use this idea as a way to have a dialogue about our shared values about the nature and scale of public parks and their ability to contribute to a vibrant city with vibrant neighborhoods.

Please note: this statement was originally read on behalf of Jerry Adelmann, Openlands President and CEO, at a community meeting held on April 23, 2018.

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Mary Peery, the West Side’s Force for Community Conservation

May 21, 2018

On Saturday, May 19, the Austin Green Team held its annual memorial service for members of the Austin community who’ve passed away recently. One of those remembered was Mary Peery, founder of the Austin Green Team and recipient of the 1997 Openlands Conservation Leadership Award, who passed away on November 10 at the age of 91.

Mary’s work wove a diverse fabric of community conservation and open space advocacy. She served as president for over 25 years, providing leadership and guidance to volunteers working on dozens of community gardens across the Austin community. Peery, along with her sister Leola Spann, started the first community garden in the Austin area, the Paradise Garden (650 N. Latrobe), and in 1995, Peery founded the Austin Green Team. The Green Team has since become renowned for its prolific planting of gardens throughout the West Side. In her role with the Austin Green Team, she assisted in Openlands’ Neighborhood Open Space Planning process and was recognized on numerous occasions for her community activism, including by Mayor Daley. Her portrait is on display in the Daley Center.

A brick inscribed with Mary’s name has been placed in the Austin Memorial Garden.

Saturday’s ceremony also honored Elizabeth Bynum, Kenneth “Butch” Campbell, Claudell Ervin, Kamile Kalina, and Carol Williams-Hunt. You can visit the garden at the corner of Laramie Ave. and Washington Blvd.

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Birds in my Neighborhood Recognized by the US Forest Service for Community Conservation Efforts

May 1, 2018

Openlands’ Birds in my Neighborhood® program has received the Urban Communities in Conservation Award from the Wings Across the Americas Program of the US Forest ServiceBirds in my Neighborhood was created in partnership with Audubon Great Lakes and is taught by volunteers at Chicago Public Schools. The goal is to acquaint students and teachers with the common birds in their garden, neighborhood, and city through in-class lessons and field trips.

Through the Wings Across the Americas (WATA) Program, the US Forest Service promotes collaboration in the US, Latin America, and Canada to support, strengthen, and enhance habitat management for the conservation of migratory species, including birds, bats, monarch butterflies, and dragonflies. At both the domestic and international levels, the US Forest Service fosters and supports diverse partnerships that include activities such as conservation education, community outreach, research, monitoring, citizen science, and promotion of best management practices in protected areas, working lands, and urban centers.

Each year, the US Forest Service honors outstanding partnerships from throughout the Americas with nominations submitted for projects including research partnerships, habitat conservation partnerships, bird conservation partnerships, international cooperation, and urban communities in conservation.

Openlands believes school gardens and birds can be the entrée to connect youth with a long-term passion for the environment. School gardens provide almost daily interaction with nature, and Birds in my Neighborhood supports the observation of birds in students’ schoolyards and neighborhood blocks. By understanding more about birds, including how they survive and contribute to the urban environment, students forge a critical connection with nature as it exists in their own communities.

We congratulate our colleagues who help run Birds in my Neighborhood, send our sincerest appreciation to all the volunteers who assist the program, and thank the Forest Service for this recognition as well as our partners in Chicago Public Schools.

Openlands previously received the 2007 Habitat Conservation Award for restoration of the South Patrol Road Restoration Area at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

Learn more about volunteering with Birds in my Neighborhood.

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Forest Preserves of Cook County Installs New Canoe and Kayak Launch Along the Des Plaines River

May 1, 2018

Forest Preserves of Cook County has opened a new access point to the Des Plaines River for canoes and kayaks! The new launch is located on the western bank of the Des Plaines at Maywood Grove Forest Preserve in Maywood. We are thrilled to see the new launch as it will improve access to the river for so many paddlers!

If you talk to representatives from any of the region’s forest preserve districts or many local park districts, they’ll tell you there’s growing interest in paddling on our region’s rivers and lakes, and last summer, Openlands launched to help.

As this movement grows locally, it is so important to have easy access to the rivers for first-time paddlers and experts alike. The new launch at Maywood Grove is an accessible way for everyone to experience a river that has had an immense impact on shaping both our region, and its landscapes and geology. The Forest Preserves will also use this launch for a new community paddling program in the Maywood area.

We’ve updated the information on so you can begin exploring the Des Plaines from Maywood Grove!

If you’re new to paddling and what to get some experience before heading out on your own, don’t worry — we’ve planned some family-friendly paddling trips this summer to help.

We want to say thank you again to the Forest Preserves of Cook County for making a commitment to paddling our region’s rivers and lakes!

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We’re Planting 3,000 Plants in a Day, We Need Your Help

April 30, 2018

Openlands is assisting Libertyville Township Open Space District in planting 3,000 plants in a single day in the Liberty Prairie Reserve, so we need some helping hands to get the job done!

We are helping to restore the new Donnelley Prairies and Oaks Preserve, one of the newest nature preserve dedications in the state, where we are transitioning the land from farm to prairie. As a dedicated nature preserve, it is also home to some of the rarest landscapes and wildlife in Illinois, and this planting will be along the shores of a micro-habitat known as a headwater stream.

This is a great opportunity for families or students in need of volunteer hours! Come out and help us with the planting, geek out over land and science, and spend a great day outside! You can also take part of the day to explore the nearby Oak Openings Nature Preserve.

Join us on Saturday, June 9 from 9am-12pm. Volunteers should plan to meet at Donnelley Prairies and Oaks Preserve, located at 17909 W. Casey Road, Libertyville, Illinois 60048. Look for signs on south side of Casey Road, just west of the intersection of Almond and Casey roads. We’ll provide plants, tools, snacks, and instruction. Bring your favorite work gloves if you’d like.

To save everyone some time at the workday, please complete our volunteer waiver.

See you there!

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Openlands Announces Spring 2018 TreePlanters Grant Recipient Neighborhoods

April 5, 2018

Openlands is pleased to announce the neighborhood recipients of the spring 2018 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:

  • Brynford Park (Brynford Bible Church) – Saturday, April 14 | Register
  • Chicago Lawn (Morrill Elementary School) – Saturday, April 21 | Register
  • Bowmanville (Bowmanville GreenSpace Park) – Saturday, April 28 | Register
  • Portage Park (Berenice & Cicero) – Wednesday, May 2 | Register
  • Blue Island (Hart Park) – Saturday, May 5 | Register 
  • North Park (North Park Village Nature Center) – Wednesday, May 9 | Register
  • West Elsdon (Peck Elementary School) – Saturday, May 12  | Register
  • Rogers Park (Gale Garden) – Wednesday, May 16
  • Portage Park (Chicago Academy High School) – Wednesday, May 24

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

Learn more and register.

Openlands Forestry team has planted more than 5,000 trees across the Chicago area 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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Conservation Priorities in the Illinois General Assembly this Spring Session

April 4, 2018

The Illinois General Assembly re-convenes next week and is poised to make many crucial decisions about the future of conservation in Illinois. These decisions will determine if Illinois will rollback endangered species protections, facilitate farmland protection, encourage urban farming, and clarify standing to challenge environmental permits, among many more.

These decisions deserve careful consideration and input from you – the people who elect our decision-makers and enjoy Illinois’ environment. However, we expect that most of these decisions will be made very quickly and with little warning.

Openlands’ staff is constantly analyzing and following these initiatives. When a decision becomes imminent, we will provide you with our assessment, and offer advice about how to help influence each decision on behalf of people and nature. Be on the lookout for our e-mails and advocacy alerts!

If you are interested in becoming more involved in Openlands’ advocacy efforts, consider joining our advocacy parters in Springfield on April 26 for Environmental Lobby Day!

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Congress Passes Federal Budget Protecting Conservation Priorities Critical to Our Region

March 23, 2018

A new Federal budget that broadly supports conservation passed by wide margins in both the House and the Senate, and has been signed by the White House. The bipartisan negotiation process rejected proposed cuts to conservation programs and funding.

  • Funding for the National Park Service has been increased by 9%, instead of being decreased by 12%. That reduction would have eliminated funding for the National Heritage Areas (NHAs). Instead NHAs have received a $500,000 funding increase. NHAs protect the history, culture, ecology, and landscapes of many important regions in our nation’s history such as I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor.
  • The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which had been facing budget reductions of 90%, has been fully funded. 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.
  • Funding for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which oversees the National Wildlife Refuge System has been increased by $75 million to $1.6 billion. Since 2012, Openlands has worked to establish Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge along the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

Thank you to all of you who reached out to your elected representatives and made your voices heard. The strong support for conservation in this budget reflects the importance of nature in all our lives.

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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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Remembering Betty Peterson, Peace Activist, Civil Rights Advocate, and Protector of Open Space

March 10, 2018

On Saturday, February 24, Betty Peterson, widow to Openlands’ first Executive Director Gunnar Peterson, passed away at age 100. Betty was a force of nature for justice, advocating for causes throughout her life including indigenous rights, feminism, civil rights, the anti-war movement, and the environmental justice movement.

Peterson was born in Reading, PA, and moved from the Chicago area to Nova Scotia with her husband in 1975, due to their oppositions to the Vietnam War. While in Canada, Betty participated in many protests and peace groups throughout the country, such as protesting against oil companies operating on land belonging to indigenous groups, and involvement with the Voice of Women’s Peace group as well as a Quaker group known as the Halifax Society of Friends.

The Petersons believed that nature was vital to all people and that it should be close to where people live. Under Gunnar’s leadership, Openlands coordinating a state-wide campaign to ban DDT; advocated for the creation of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore; and established the Lake Michigan Federation, now known as Alliance for the Great Lakes.

For over 40 years, Betty Peterson was dedicated to helping and relating to people, something we at Openlands also strive for. Betty, along with her husband, was dedicated to protecting open spaces and ensuring that people would remain connected to nature. Her message and advocacy will continue to live in our mission.

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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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