State Program Breaking Asphalt to Make Room for Natural Landscape

Article excerpt

Byline: Mary Lou Cowlishaw

Illinois is known as the Prairie State, but until recently there was so little natural prairie left that Illinois could more correctly be called the Asphalt State.

However, the state's Open Land Trust Program is seeking to arrest the never-ending flow of asphalt by protecting what little open space is left in northeastern Illinois and elsewhere in our state.

"The Illinois Open Land Trust was created for one simple purpose: to acquire natural lands and expand public open space throughout the state," writes Natural Resources Director Brett Manning in his report to the General Assembly.

Manning calls the program "one of the most significant initiatives for land conservation in Illinois history." He notes the program's aim is to "protect open space, acquire natural areas, restore and expand wildlife habitat, conserve watersheds and establish greenways."

Although the program is barely a year old, it already has affected the purchase of nearly 13,000 acres of diverse natural land, including the Lake-in-the-Hills Fen Nature Preserve in McHenry County and the Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve in Cook County.

The program also has a grant program to local governments for the development of community parks and recreational facilities, including the Chicago metro area.

A grant helped develop the 205-acre Springlake Greenway, which will be named after the late Walter Payton. The project will extend Spring Lake Preserve to the east, develop a trail system and provide additional protection for the headwaters of Spring Creek in northwestern Cook County.

A 248-acre Kane County project, the Jelkes Creek/Sand Prairie, also was helped through the grant program. The site is the former Elmhurst-Chicago Stone gravel mine and a portion of the Bright Farm. …