More than 70 acres of lakeshore parkland has reopened in north Highland Park.
After a two-plus-year ordeal, and now under new oversight, the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve and its 1-mile of shoreline is open to the public after a ceremony on Thursday, Aug. 31.
Openlands Lakeshore Preserve transferred the land to the Lake County Forest Preserves in a deal agreed upon in June and closed last week. The land is now part of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, which covers parts of Highland Park and Lake Forest along Lake Michigan.
According to information from the forest preserve, three ravines and bluffs have been restored and the space includes trails, overlooks and art installations.
“We are thrilled this picturesque addition to Fort Sheridan is now in public ownership for all to explore and enjoy,” said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves.
Highland Park Councilmember Andres Tapia agreed, saying in a post on social media, “Take time to enjoy this natural habitat with ecological significance that we all have access to on the shores of Lake Michigan this weekend. It’s a beautiful spot and you will not be disappointed with the views.
The preserve, which used to be part of the Fort Sheridan Army Base, was closed in April 2021 after three explosive devices were found. The devices reportedly were professionally disposed of.
Since, multiple agencies — including the City of Highland Park, Openlands and the U.S. Navy — were involved in returning public access to the site. A site report from Tetra Tech, a group hired by the Naval station, released in March found that further threat of finding ammunitions is unlikely.
“An unacceptable risk due to subsurface (devices) does not exist unless it would become exposed or disturbed,” the report says.
The Navy included recommendations for the site, which include informational signage, regular inspections and stakeholder training to “recognize, retreat and report.”
“We ask everyone to do their part when visiting the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve,” said Alex Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves, in the county’s release. “Visit only during open hours, which are 6:30 am until sunset, every day of the year, and remember that the entire site, including the shoreline, is closed at night.”
In the agreement with the forest preserve, Openlands reportedly donated $1.36 million to support conservation of the site to the preserve’s charitable arm, The Preservation Foundation.
“This is the third time in the past 18 months that Openlands has transferred land to another qualifying entity in Lake County, protecting nature for all,” said Jerry Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands. “As long-standing partners of the Lake County Forest Preserves, we’re pleased to see the preserve thrive as part of Fort Sheridan. We look forward to future partnerships, building on our 60-year track record as a trusted leader on behalf of land conservation in Lake County and across the region.”
According to the county, the area is of ecological significance and home to at least six threatened and endangered plant species, and thousands of migrating birds pass through the preserve each year.
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