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News Updates

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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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Progress on the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act

April 21, 2016

Openlands continues to make progress in our fight to defend natural areas in Illinois. At the urging of Openlands and our partners, the State Senate’s Environment and Conservation Committee approved SB 3289. SB 3289 amends the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act so that owners of protected areas may be compensated for natural resource damages caused by illegal logging on their lands. Many conservation organizations, local governments and state agencies throughout Illinois have experienced illegal tree cutting. SB 3289 will allow us to recover enough funds to restore the special natural places under our care to their previous conditions.

Openlands and our partners, including the Natural Land InstituteIllinois Environmental Council and Senator Steve Stadelman, have participated in extensive negotiations with utility companies, public landowners, contractors or other stakeholders to improve and refine SB 3289. As a result of these coalition-building efforts, we expect SB 3289 to pass out of the full State Senate on April 21. Click here for more information.

Update: SB 3289 passed the State Senate by a vote of 44 to 5 on April 21.

From left to right: Senator Stadelman, Kerry Leigh with the Natural Land Institute and our own VP of Policy and Planning Lenore Beyer-Clow after successfully moving the amendment to the Wrongful Tree Cutting Act out of the Senate Environment Committee

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Openlands Announces the Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Series

April 20, 2016

Openlands is excited to announce our Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Series. This program, which runs from spring to fall, highlights many waterways that we have hiding in plain sight. Did you know you can explore the Chicago River at Ping Tom Park or that there is a lagoon at Garfield Park? There will also be opportunities to check out the Little Calumet River at Kickapoo Woods and Powderhorn Lake among other opportunities.

Most dates include beginner friendly paddling, as well as on-land activities, such as guided family bird walks and stewardship to help maintain natural areas in the parks. Some of the events will be multilingual (Spanish, Cantonese) and pre-registration is   required for some activities. All the events are free and open to the public.

With 11 dates to choose from there is sure to be an opportunity for everyone.

Be sure to visit www.openlands.org/events for upcoming opportunities!

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Space to Grow Recognized as One of Nation’s Top Green Schoolyard Programs

April 12, 2016

Space to Grow: Greening Chicago Schoolyards is an innovative partnership between Openlands and Healthy Schools Campaign that aims to connect people with nature where they live by transforming underutilized schoolyards throughout the city into assets for students, their families and the environment. These schoolyards evolve through community engagement into environments that promote health and wellness, outdoor learning, and stormwater capture.

Currently, Space to Grow has completed 6 schoolyards on its way to a total of 34. The results of our efforts were published in March 2016 in our Green Schoolyards Report. Following this publication, the U.S. Green Building Council and the Green Schools National Network recognized Space to Grow as one of the best green school programs in the country. The Green Schools Conference and Expo took place in Pittsburg, PA last month, where Space to Grow, among other initiatives across the country, was recognized by Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at USGBC as “…an inspiring example of innovation and passion in pursuit of schools that educate a generation of sustainability natives, students prepared to take the lead in the 21st century.”

Read the full press release from USGBC and the GSNN here.

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Amending the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act

March 24, 2016

Trees are fundamental to natural areas throughout Illinois: they provide wildlife habitat, prevent soil erosion, and filter water. They are the literal roots holding an ecosystem together. Despite these essential benefits, perpetrators of illegal logging in conservation areas in Illinois get away with it without facing substantial consequences.

Openlands is working on state legislation to allow conservation landowners to be adequately compensated when trees are illegally cut on their property.

Openlands and our partners are proposing an amendment to the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act (HB5577/SB3289)  to allow a conservation or preservation property owner to be adequately compensated for all of the damage done to a natural area by illegal logging. The current law limits recovery for damages to three times the logged value of the trees and does not take into account other damages done to conservation and preservation properties when trees are cut unlawfully.

Cutting trees improperly can lead to soil erosion, spread of invasive species, damage to other flora and fauna – including endangered species – and other impacts to the surrounding natural area. The current law falls short of compensating for any of these losses and is not enough to allow the wronged land owners to clean up the mess left behind.  To properly compensate the land trusts, conservation easement owners, forest preserves, park districts, and others that oversee natural areas, a change to the law is needed.

The proposed change to the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act will provide owners of conservation and preservation properties the funds necessary to remediate damages done to their properties, and serve as a deterrent to those who would knowingly and illegally cut trees in these protected areas.

Case Studies:

In the fall of 2012, one of the Natural Land Institute’s protected sites (a National Heritage Landmark) suffered trespass and had 61 mature trees cut through unauthorized logging. The loggers left a dangerous mess of broken tree trunks, downed tree top debris and broken branches. Additional damage occurred to remaining trees, the understory, and ecological damage, including rutting, slope erosion, several areas of soil compaction, and invasive species colonization from equipment. The stumpage value of the trees as calculated under the Illinois Wrongful Tree Cutting Act was $55,285.95 but our experts determined that the trespassers’ action will require $438,880 in remediation costs to clean up and begin to restore the property.  The consultant’s estimate of three-times stumpage value of $165,857.85 is significantly under the cost of site remediation and the lost functional value of the resource.

In 2013, a trespass incident occurred on one of Openlands’ conservation easements on a private property. Trees and shrubs were cut in an ecologically-sensitive portion of the easement prone to erosion and impacts from invasive species. A lawsuit is in litigation at this time. The estimated damages available under the Wrongful Tree Cutting Act encompass about 27% of the initial restoration estimate for the damaged area. Additionally, the Act does not take into account the loss of ecosystem integrity or the unknown time it will take for restored vegetation to reestablish in the damaged area.

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