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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 paddle@openlands.org 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 paddle@openlands.org or call 312.863.6253.

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Board Member Mark Harris Traverses Scotland as a Tribute to Openlands

June 8, 2017

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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.


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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 paddle@openlands.org.

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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 development@openlands.org 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.

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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 trees@openlands.org 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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Space to Grow Will Help Communities Transform Five CPS Schoolyards in 2017

January 30, 2017

Space to Grow, the award-winning green schools partnership managed by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands, is pleased to announce that five Chicago Public Schools will receive assistance in transforming their schoolyards into green learning campuses in 2017. 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

The transformation of five additional schools in 2017 will be a 50% increase in the program’s support of Chicago Public Schools, and the community design process will begin in February with the goal of completing renovations in fall 2017.

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.

For more information on Space to Grow, please visit www.spacetogrowchicago.org.

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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 gardens@openlands.org 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

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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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Victory in a Second Federal Court Case against the Illiana Tollway: Openlands is Another Step Closer to a Comprehensive Transportation Solution that Protects Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

November 17, 2016

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Federal Courts have twice ruled that the environmental studies for the proposed Illiana Tollway were fatally flawed.  On October 31, a second federal judge rejected skewed population and employment forecasts that the Illinois and Indiana Departments of Transportation attempted to use as justification for the tollway. Rather than showing an actual need to spend 1.5 billion dollars on a new tollway, the transportation agencies argued that “if you build it, they will come.”  As a result, the federal courts invalidated federal approval for the Illiana tollway, freezing the project.

Instead of finally dropping this boondoggle, the transportation agencies have returned to the drawing board and are attempting to create a purpose and need for the tollway.  It is difficult to justify such reckless spending on this transportation project.  Even by their overestimated projections, the Illiana Tollway would only carry minimal traffic by 2040. Furthermore, the Illiana Tollway runs contrary to principles in our region’s comprehensive GO TO 2040 plan to protect our agricultural heritage and nationally significant natural features, like Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Kankakee River.

Openlands believes there is an answer that supports industry, honors our rural agricultural heritage, and protects our nationally renowned natural places. We advocate a smarter transportation solution which creates good jobs, avoids intensifying conflicts between trucks and local families, and which protects globally significant habitat for birds, bats and other wildlife. There is an opportunity for a true public-private partnership between CenterPoint, other businesses and government leaders to facilitate traffic more efficiently onto Interstates 55 and 80, and improve those highways for commercial traffic.  It is time to replace the Illiana with a solution that makes sense. It is not only possible, but also imperative for our region to get this right and commit to building something better.

As a next step, Openlands will continue our resounding call for alternatives to the proposed Illiana Tollway in our region’s upcoming ON TO 2050 plan and local transportation plans like Will Connects 2040. Our partners continue to help local residents focus a groundswell of opposition to the project. Most of all, we are pressing decision makers at all levels to drop this project and support an effective transportation solution which protects our natural resources.

We appreciate Environmental Law and Policy Center’s great legal representation of Openlands and our partners, Sierra Club and Midewin Heritage Association.

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Openlands TreeKeepers Celebrates 25 Years

October 20, 2016

On October 5, over 150 people gathered at Promonotory Point Park to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Openlands TreeKeepers, who have been caring for trees in the City of Chicago and beyond since 1991.

More than 1,800 people have completed the TreeKeepers course, which trains volunteers to identify tree species, to prune and otherwise care for trees, and to properly plant and mulch trees. Over the past 25 years, TreeKeepers have provided “eyes and ears on the ground” to ensure that trees are healthy, thriving, and valued across the city.

Openlands founded TreeKeepers a generation ago in order to supplement the work of the City of Chicago Department of Forestry, whose staff members have served as part of the programs faculty. Recently, TreeKeepers has expanded to the suburbs with the course offered at The Morton Arboretum and chapters sprouting up in cities such as Evanston and Oak Lawn.

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Among the guests at the celebration were members of the faculty and four of the students from the first TreeKeepers course. The succeeding two and a half decades were well represented by two dozen current and former faculty, who were honored during the program. Dozens of TreeKeepers young and old–and their families and friends–enjoyed a beautiful evening on the Lakefront with bonfires, music, and storytelling.

The evening also served as annual Partner Recognition Celebration of the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, a collaborative partnership for coordinated action on key issues facing trees. It is the largest such initiative in the country, with leading organizations and agencies from across the seven-county metropolitan region working together. CRTI is leveraging funding, knowledge, skills, and expertise to build a healthier, more diverse regional forest.

The event was sponsored by Bartlett Tree Experts, Christy Webber Landscapes, Goose Island Beer Co., The Morton Arboretum, and Solberg Manufacturing.

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Study: Restoring Forest Preserves Creates More than $8 for Every $1 Spent

October 19, 2016

Openlands and Stantec Consulting Services, Inc. have documented impressive benefits to nature and the Cook County economy from restoring Forest Preserve properties to their native states.

Since 2008, Openlands has worked with Stantec at the Deer Grove Forest Preserve and with Living Habitats at Killdeer Wetlands Preserve (Tinley Creek). We have removed non-native plants, planted native grasses and flowers, repaired water ways, and encouraged local residents to help. This work has cost $5.3 million at Deer Grove alone. However, short-term construction jobs, maintenance work, and related spending have contributed $10.6 million to the local economy. Improved recreational opportunities ($20 million) and cleaner water and healthier wildlife habitat ($13.5 million) make the overall benefits of restoration more than eight times greater than its costs.

Water and habitat benefits were identified by a detailed study conducted by Stantec and WBK Engineering of Deer Grove East and Killdeer. This study measured the flow of water on these lands before and after restoration work was completed. It found that natural areas can keep more water from flowing off-site and into nearby streams and sewers after they have been restored. A major reason that the restored sites are able to retain more water is that drainage tiles installed about one hundred years ago were disabled to keep water on the site that otherwise would have drained away in as little as 24 hours.

These studies were completed with financial support from the O’Hare Modernization Mitigation Account and The Chicago Community Trust, as well as important assistance from the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

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Bartlett Tree Experts – TreeKeepers Teacher and Official Arborist of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

September 19, 2016

ScottTogether, Bartlett Tree Experts and Openlands are committed to protecting and strengthening the urban forest of the Chicago region. Ourpartnership began 25 years ago with Scott Jamieson’s leadership as a founding faculty member of TreeKeepers. This signature program has trained more than 1,800 volunteers how to help keep trees green and growing in Chicago. Scott (pictured right) is Vice President of Corporate Partnerships and National Recruiting at Bartlett Tree Experts and a member of the Openlands Board of Directors.

Our partnership continues today with the ongoing support of Bartlett Tree Experts and its employees, who generously donate their time and expertise to teach the next generation of TreeKeeper volunteers. The growth and success of TreeKeepers is due, in no small part, to the dedication of Bartlett Tree Experts, and we are excited and grateful to celebrate this success with Bartlett Tree Experts as the 25th Anniversary Sponsor of TreeKeepers in 2016.

We are also happy to announce another chapter in this enduring partnership. Bartlett Tree Experts is now the Official Arborist of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve (2016 – 2019). The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Lake County presents an opportunity to utilize the expertise of Bartlett Tree Experts to care for the Preserve’s wooded ravines and bluffs. Openlands owns and manages the 77-acre Preserve that is so ecologically significant that it is designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve, possessing some of the highest quality natural areas in the state. The Preserve was also recognized with a Merit Award from the Illinois Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

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(Ravines during the autumn season at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve)

We are grateful to Bartlett Tree Experts for their continuing role to train and inspire TreeKeepers and as the Official Arborist of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve assuring that we are surrounded by beautiful and healthy trees for all to enjoy. 

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