Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a 77-acre Illinois Nature Preserve in Highland Park, IL that is home to wooded ravines and some of our region’s most magnificent views of Lake Michigan. The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is home to three unique ecosystems — ravines, bluffs, and lakefront. These rare and fragile ecosystems exist together in only a few places in the region and require our utmost care and respect. 

PUBLIC NOTICE: Openlands has temporarily closed the Lakeshore Preserve for the protection of all.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve remains closed as experts return for additional investigation

Naval Station Great Lakes announced this week that experts from Tetra Tech will return to Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park for additional field investigations of unexploded military munitions. Currently, the nature preserve remains closed to the public. Part of the former Fort Sheridan Army base for more than 100 years, the preserve was forced to close for the safety of all the week of April 5, 2021, due to the discovery and disposal of three explosives. These items were safely removed and disposed of by the proper authorities.

In support of reopening the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in a timely and safe manner, the Navy awarded a contract to Tetra Tech in 2021 to address public health and safety concerns. Tetra Tech reviewed historical documents and in December conducted an initial field investigation. A team is mobilizing to return to the site in May.   

Naval Station Great Lakes, the City of Highland Park, Lake County, and Openlands have been conducting frequent subject matter expert and leadership meetings to discuss efforts underway to support the return of public access and land management to Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. The team is committed to addressing concerns to return the preserve to its intended purpose as a nature preserve for the public’s enjoyment and ask all to respect the closure while work is completed.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park is currently closed to the public. Once part of the former Fort Sheridan Army base, the nature preserve opened to the public in 2011 under the ownership and management of Openlands, which is working cooperatively with the US Navy to resolve the closure.

Why is the Preserve closed?
In April 2021, visitors found a grenade and two flares that were safely detonated on site by the Waukegan Bomb Squad. For the safety of all, Openlands closed the Preserve for an investigation by the Navy that is underway. 

What is the timeline for Reopening?
The Navy continues to collaborate with Openlands, and our teams are diligently working to appropriately address the site’s needs. We do not presently have a timeline for re-opening.

Why be concerned about old military artifacts?
Experts believe the items found in the Preserve were remnants from this site’s use as an Army base for over 100 years. The ravines, bluffs, beach, and lake presented opportunities to use a variety of munitions over time. Old munitions and related items are considered just as dangerous as they were when they were first made. Some munitions become more dangerous over time as their parts deteriorate. https://www.denix.osd.mil/uxo/

Why is the investigation taking so long?
Openlands and the Navy share the desire to complete this investigation in a timely, safe, and thorough manner. With steep bluffs and ravines, the site is complicated to investigate, and has a long history of various military uses. 

Is this connected to Openlands’ desire to install fencing along the blufftop?
In early 2021, Openlands proposed installing a fence along the blufftop to protect visitors and help stabilize the bluff, but Openlands shelved the plans due to initial public input. The bluffs have become steep and unstable due to natural erosion, which has recently accelerated because of fluctuating lake levels, record-breaking storms, and winters that are sometimes too warm to create a protective armor of ice. Fencing remains under consideration, though the Preserve’s closure is in no way connected to the 2021 proposal. 

Why not open just the paved trails?
The entire property is being investigated. Experience has shown that many visitors do not stay on the paved trails. 

What type of technology is being used? 
Trained investigators use their eyes to visually inspect the ground. In addition, an all metals detector helps find items that might be laying on top of the ground, but hidden under vegetation or partially covered with soil. 

Who is paying for the investigation? 
Having briefly acquired the property from the US Army before transferring it to Openlands, the US Navy is funding the investigation. 

Who owns and pays to operate the Preserve?
Openlands is a 501c3 non-profit organization that owns and operates the Preserve. Openlands receives no taxpayer dollars to operate the Preserve. When the organization acquired the property from the US Navy, Openlands raised funds for the creation of the trails, restoration of the preserve, and art and interpretation that exists there today. Throughout the closure, Openlands has taken on additional costs to maintain fencing and signage. 

Why haven’t taxpayer-funded documents been released to the public?  
Once finalized, documents related to the investigation will be released to the public and housed at a local public repository. A public meeting and website will also be offered to help communicate efforts and recommendations.  

To receive updates and announcements of reopening as they become available, please click here to be added to our communications list. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and understanding.

As a matter of security for the public, fencing has been placed in areas of the Lakeshore Preserve as a precaution where there otherwise would be public access to the site. Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is patrolled by Advance Security, to uphold the rules and regulations for the safety of all. Report violators to Highland Park Police: 847.432.7730

Updated May 27, 2022