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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.

October 2022 Update

This summer, Openlands received a substantial amount of valuable information from the Navy about Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. The information is currently under review and being utilized for the creation of a site reopening plan. Recommendations include signage and public awareness training. During this process, the Navy continues to respond in a timely and collaborative way to Openlands’ inquiries and requests. Once finalized, documents related to the investigation will be released to the public and housed at a local public repository.

Part of the former Fort Sheridan Army base for more than 100 years, the nature preserve opened to the public in 2011 under the ownership and management of Openlands, a private, non-profit organization. In the first week of April 2021, the Preserve was forced to close for the safety of all due to the discovery and disposal of three explosives – a grenade and two flares. These items were safely disposed of by the Waukegan Bomb Squad.

Openlands and the Navy both desire to implement a timely and safe reopening of the Preserve. With steep bluffs and ravines, the site has been complicated to investigate and has a long history of various military training uses.

To be informed of receive updates and announcements as they become available, sign up to receive this Openlands Lakeshore Preserve newsletter by clicking here. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and understanding.

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

April 2022 Update:

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.

If any person would like to receive updates and announcements as they become available, sign up to receive this Openlands Lakeshore Preserve newsletter by clicking here. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and understanding.

December 2021 Update:

Experts Convene at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve to support investigation

For three days in early December, experts from five states convened at Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park to conduct field work on a portion of the site in support of the investigation that stemmed from the discovery of explosives during the spring of 2021.

In support of Openlands, the Navy awarded a contract to Tetra Tech on September 24, 2021 to study the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve to address concerns to public health and safety. The Tetra Tech team will review the findings of the site investigation as well as historical documents to determine a recommended path forward.

The results of the study will allow for recommendations regarding the need for any further action, if any, and will also allow Openlands to make informed decisions regarding steps needed to re-open the Preserve. Public access and ecological management have been restricted since April 2021 due to the presence of military artifacts that were found on the property.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is located on the former Fort Sheridan, adjacent to Navy housing, with shoreline and bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. The former Army post was closed in 1993 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and a portion of the former installation was transferred to Openlands and converted to a nature preserve in 2007.

Naval Station Great Lakes, the City of Highland Park, Lake County, and Openlands have been hosting a weekly subject matter expert and leadership meeting 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.

If any person would like to receive updates and announcements as they become available, sign up to receive this Openlands Lakeshore Preserve newsletter by clicking here. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and understanding.

October 2021 Update:


Navy Awards Contract to Study Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Mid-Atlantic awarded a contract to a private firm on September 24, 2021 to study Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. This follows a site visit by NAVFAC Environmental experts on August 25, 2021 aiding in efforts to reopen the site. 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. NAVFAC advised the team that the study is slated to begin on the site this fall with a goal of completion before summer of 2022.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is located on the former Fort Sheridan military base with shoreline and bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. The post was closed in 1993 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and ownership of a portion of the installation was transferred in 2007 to Openlands, a nationally accredited land trust. Openlands restored the natural areas, installed trails and artwork, secured designation for the property as an Illinois Nature Preserve, and opened the site to the public in 2011.

Naval Station Great Lakes, the City of Highland Park, Lake County, and Openlands have a weekly subject matter expert and leadership meeting to discuss efforts underway to support the return of public access to Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. The team is committed to addressing concerns to return the preserve to its intended purpose for the enjoyment of all. The team asks the public to respect the closure while an assessment is completed and do not enter the preserve.

If any person would like to receive updates and announcements as they become available, sign up to receive this Openlands Lakeshore Preserve newsletter by clicking here. In the meantime, we thank you for your patience and understanding.

September 2021 Update:

Navy Begins Assessment of Openlands Lakeshore Preserve
At the request of Representative Brad Schneider and Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, the Navy begins work with the City of Highland Park and Lake County

Naval Station Great Lakes, the City of Highland Park and Lake County hosted a subject matter expert and leadership meeting with Openlands on Aug. 25 and 26 to discuss efforts underway to support the return of public access to Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. The event included a site visit of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve by Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Mid-Atlantic Environmental experts and a synchronization update on resources and capabilities now available to assist the Navy with the site’s assessment. “Partnering with the City of Highland Park, Lake County and Openlands is an excellent example of cooperation that will continue to benefit the local area,” said Captain Jason Williamson of Naval Station Great Lakes.

“The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a natural treasure along our lakefront,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. “That’s why I’ve worked alongside my colleagues Senator Duckworth and Congressman Schneider to ensure that the Navy is doing everything it can to help Openlands safely reopen as soon as possible. I thank Naval Station Great Lakes for their hard work and expertise and Openlands for their continued commitment to preserving and restoring our open spaces.”

“The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a valued natural area that holds significant importance to the surrounding community,” U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth said. “I appreciate Naval Station Great Lakes and the NAVFAC Mid-Atlantic Environmental experts for working with the community to make the Preserve open to the public in a safe and efficient manner.”

The work follows the discovery and disposal of three explosives that began the week of April 5, 2021, forcing the public closure of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve for the safety of all.

“The City greatly appreciates the partnership of the Navy and Lake County, and the advocacy of our elected officials in Washington in prioritizing the remediation of this incredible natural resource,” said Mayor Nancy Rotering. “Since acquiring the property, Openlands has completed extensive work at their property, which has greatly enhanced the quality of life for our community. We look forward to once again enjoying the trails and lakefront just as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is located on the former Fort Sheridan military base with shoreline and bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. The post was closed in 1993 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process and ownership of a portion of the installation was transferred in 2007 to Openlands, a nationally accredited land trust. Openlands restored the natural areas, installed trails and artwork, secured designation for the property as an Illinois Nature Preserve, and opened the site to the public in 2011.

“The safety of the public when visiting the Preserve is Openlands’ top priority. We want everyone to be able to fully enjoy the beauty and natural setting of the Preserve’s bluffs, prairie, and lakefront,” said Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands. “The expertise the Navy provides is essential and we thank them for their co-operation and guidance. In addition, we are grateful for the leadership and coordination of Representative Schneider, Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and the ongoing support of Mayor Nancy Rotering and the City of Highland Park to assist in securing this assessment and possible remediation.”

Openlands is committed to addressing concerns to return the preserve to its intended purpose for public enjoyment. Plans to reopen will not be available until the completion of the assessment, at the earliest. The public is asked to respect the closure while the assessment and any subsequent needed work is completed.

July 2021 Update:

For the protection of all, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve remains temporarily closed due to multiple discoveries of explosives and areas of concern that began the week of April 5, 2021. This week, Openlands learned of the Navy’s refusal to complete an onsite investigation despite documented public safety concerns. Until an onsite investigation and any necessary removal is complete, it is imperative that the public stay out of the Preserve. Any entrance is unlawful trespassing and potentially dangerous.

Per the Navy’s requirement, requests regarding the investigation of Openlands Lakeshore Preserve have gone through The City of Highland Park on Openlands’ behalf. Despite repeated requests on behalf of public safety, the Naval Station Great Lakes this week communicated to the City of Highland Park its refusal to assist in the onsite investigation at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. Openlands is now seeking assistance from others to ensure a full onsite investigation is completed as quickly as possible. Meanwhile the City of Highland Park continues to request support from the military.

Openlands shares the desire to re-open the Preserve at the earliest possible date. We thank the City of Highland Park for the assistance they have provided to try and resolve this public safety issue. We thank you for your patience and understanding.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserves is a 77-acre nature preserve near Highland Park was once part of the Fort Sheridan military base, with ownership having transferred from the Army to the Navy and then to Openlands, a nationally accredited nonprofit.

June 2021 Update:

For the protection of all, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve remains temporarily closed due to multiple discoveries of explosives the week of April 5, and the identification of a new area of concern by explosives-sniffing dogs the weeks of May 17 and 24. The 77-acre nature preserve near Highland Park was once part of the Fort Sheridan military base, with ownership having transferred from the Army to the Navy and then to Openlands, a nationally accredited nonprofit.

Naval Station Great Lakes recently communicated that military working dogs will be available sometime after July 7 and their work will take place in coordination with the Waukegan Bomb Squad in the event the dogs detect anything of significance.

Per the Navy’s requirement, requests regarding the investigation of Openlands Lakeshore Preserve must come through a government agency. The City of Highland Park has graciously agreed to take the lead on this on Openlands’ behalf and continues to regularly reach out to the Navy with requests for a military investigation to identify and remove all remaining explosives.

Openlands shares the desire to re-open the Preserve and will do so as soon as possible. In the meantime, Openlands thanks you for your patience and understanding.

May 2021 Update:

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve Remains Closed as Investigation Continues

On multiple occasions during the weeks of May 17 and 24, explosives-sniffing dogs identified a new area of concern at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve near Highland Park, shelving earlier hopes to re-open the popular nature preserve by Memorial Day weekend.

Openlands has reiterated its request for the military to investigate, identify, and remove all remaining unexploded ordnance from the site. Once part of the Fort Sheridan military base, the Preserve was closed to the public on April 9 after a grenade and two other explosives were found and safely disabled by the Waukegan Bomb Squad.

The Army Base Realignment and Closure Office pledged in April to provide Openlands with a preliminary assessment by mid-May. To date, Openlands has not received that document. Openlands has received a May 13 statement by the military concluding that multiple discoveries of explosives were anomalies requiring no further investigation.

Openlands has done everything the military has requested. The nationally accredited nonprofit, based in Chicago, has worked with the City of Highland Park to formally request information and support from the Department of Defense. In addition, Openlands utilized a contractor to employ explosives-sniffing dogs and is implementing the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Education Program so that people on site will know how to “Recognize, Retreat, and Report” unexploded munitions.

Openlands continues to update its website and social media as the situation progresses and distributes email updates to all who request them. To be added to the email notification list, contact info@openlands.org.

May 2021 Update:

On May 13, the Naval Station Great Lakes issued a statement regarding the military’s preliminary assessment of explosives found in multiple locations, including Navy-owned property, on two occasions the week of April 5 within Openlands Lakeshore Preserve near Highland Park. The privately owned nature preserve was once part of the former Fort Sheridan military base. It was restored and repurposed by Openlands, offering popular walking trails and artworks to the public since 2011. The Preserve is now temporarily closed for the safety of all.

The preliminary assessment by the U.S. Army Base Realignment and Closure Office was limited to a Virginia-based review of historical documents pertaining to the site’s former use as an Army training ground for utilization of grenades, anti-aircraft missiles, and other firearms and artillery. The Army’s Virginia office stated the suspected munitions are “most likely” not from the former Fort Sheridan upland ranges and “may have” washed up from the lake over the winter and no further investigation is needed.

No onsite investigation of the land, water, or lakebed was completed, and the Navy has requested more detail from Army investigators.

Openlands is awaiting the preliminary assessment from the military to evaluate next steps, ensuring that due diligence is followed for the safety of all visitors.

We share everyone’s desire to re-open the Preserve and will do so as soon as possible. To that end, based on the results of our own due diligence, Openlands hopes to open the upland trails, Bartlett Ravine trail, and both staircases before the Memorial Day weekend. Based on the ambiguity of the military statement and the lack of information that Openlands has received from the military, the bluff and beach trail will remain closed pending further investigation. Portions of the temporary safety fencing will be removed as sections reopen.

Another update will be sent out when areas of the Preserve are opened. In the meantime, we thank you for your continued patience and understanding.

Updated October 7, 2022