News Updates

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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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Openlands Celebrates 50th TreeKeepers Graduating Class

July 26, 2016

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June 26 marked the graduation of 19 new TreeKeepers, including our youngest ever TreeKeeper, Isabella, who is 10 years old. The course has been offered twice a year for 25 years, making this the 50th class of graduates! TreeKeepers become certified to care for trees in an urban environment so that they can volunteer in a variety of situations from tree care and planting to adopting green spaces and advocacy. Their learned skills empower them to recognize when trees are not properly maintained and fix a problem when they see it.

Caring for our urban forest is a shared effort, and the TreeKeepers in training got a taste of this when they concluded their course with a tree planting on Major Taylor Trail, adding to the 200 trees other Opeenlands TreeKeepers have already planted with the help of Friends of Major Taylor Trail.

Along with their technical training, TreeKeepers get to join a network of over 1,800 stewards and are motivated to become more interactive members of their communities. TreeKeepers work all over the Chicago region, connecting with different people over the shared goal of protecting and planting trees. Some recent graduates were recruited by another one of our TreeKeepers, Helen Denham, who is on the Riverdale Tree Commission and helps lead the Riverdale Tree Buddies, a mentorship and youth volunteer program to get children outside.

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Openlands and Liberty Prairie Foundation Release Guide to Growing Land Access for Local Food Farming

July 22, 2016

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Openlands and Liberty Prairie Foundation are excited to release Breaking Ground: A Guide to Growing Land Access for Local Food Farming in Northeast Illinois.

Sustainable local food growers are valued members of communities throughout Northeast Illinois. They grow our food, enrich our economies and care for our resources. Unfortunately, access to affordable and appropriate farmland is among the biggest challenges that prevent these local food farmers from remaining in greater Chicago, and in urban areas across the country.

Breaking Ground aims to address this complicated topic through stand-alone sections that speak directly to the 3 most critical audiences for increasing farmland access – local food farmers, private landowners and public landowners. It connects these audiences with legal tools, professional contacts and other technical resources that can help them to more easily navigate their respective journeys to acquire or provide farmland access.

Breaking Ground was funded through Food:Land:Opportunity – Localizing the Chicago Foodshed, a collaboration between Kinship Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust through the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust.

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