SFIA Member Spotlight – Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

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DuPage, a historic nature preserve in Illinois, provides insight to the beauty, opportunities and challenges created by an organization dependent on its community and those devoted to keep it thriving and protected.

What is the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County?

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County protects nearly 26,000 acres and manages more than 60 forest preserves, 600 acres of lakes, 47 miles of rivers and streams and 5 educational sites. Our forest preserves offer more than 145 miles of trails — which connect our community to neighborhoods and businesses across the county — for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The Forest Preserve District welcomes more than 4 million visitors each year to the preserves; our visitors reap the rewards of spending time in nature, enjoying recreational activities at their leisure and maximizing health-and-wellness offerings in the preserves. Our purpose is to provide opportunities for people to connect to nature here in DuPage.

What are some of the recreational and education experiences that you offer?

The Forest Preserve District offers a variety of recreational, educational and cultural experiences in DuPage forest preserves. Our centers offer programs on birding and watching wildlife, walking for fitness, fishing, cycling, paddling, photography and archery, to name a few. Some centers offer STEM programs for school children complemented by experiences in nature, and other centers offer day-long discovery days showcasing historic agricultural and farming practices, domestic arts and seasonal happenings, including maple syruping and corn harvesting.

Most programs are oriented for families, and some programs are offered to particular age groups, from toddlers to teens to older adults. Our programs offer a bit to satisfy most everyone’s interests.

Can you provide an overview of your volunteer programs?

Our volunteer program offers a variety of opportunities to assist our staff steward the preserves, monitor state-endangered and threatened plants and animals, rehabilitate wildlife, teach children about nature and patrol the forest preserves. Our dedicated corps of long-standing and one-day volunteers donate more than 64,000 hours each year! We also see corporate, Scout and school groups join us for restoration workdays, which are led by volunteer site stewards at many forest preserves.

What are your guiding principles? How do you incorporate them?

The Forest Preserve District’s Board of Commissioners, staff and volunteers believe in our organization’s guiding principles and strive to uphold these values not only in our stewardship of the environment but also in the everyday services we provide to DuPage County’s residents and our forest preserve fans. Our guiding principles define who we are and what we stand for as an organization, and every one of us is responsible for stewarding our land, natural resources and finances for perpetuity in DuPage County. We are also committed to creating sustainable landscapes that elevate the quality-of-life for those we serve. We strive to listen to our community to meet their needs and seek ways to partner with others to benefit DuPage County and its residents.

  • Stewardship
  • Sustainability
  • Community Engagement
  • Innovation
  • Empowerment
  • Diversity & Inclusion

How many visitors do you receive year-round?

More than 4 million visitors visit DuPage forest preserves annually.

How do you attract visitors?

We’re fortunate in that we have a more than 100-year history in DuPage County. Our history is reflected by the multiple generations who frequent our forest preserves, visit our education centers and participate in our programs year after year. Most visitors return, because they value the experiences our preserves and programs provide them. We see granddads teach their grandkids how to fish at preserve lakes, moms’ groups hike the trails with their tots, strollers in-tow and bird-loving enthusiasts join our bird walks to take in the great outdoors in like-minded company. There’s a lot to be said about our preserves being a part of everyday life, and our high-quality and fulfilling nature experiences keep visitors coming back and sharing those experiences with their families and friends.

Of course, we’ve always used traditional means (print media and collateral) to reach visitors about our offerings. But today we’re even more agile at meeting their needs on the digital landscape — whether it be by engaging with them on social channels, offering up a responsive web design, facilitating customer service through an app designed for preserve support, or providing program registration, facility reservations and permit purchases online 24/7.

What type of facilities do you have (fields, camping grounds, equestrian center, etc.)? Which one is the most popular?

The Forest Preserve District operates five centers — an equestrian center, an 1890s living-history farm, a wildlife rehabilitation and education center, an arts and cultural center, and a nature center. We’ve also just debuted The Preserve at Oak Meadows, a redesigned 18-hole golf course featuring woodland and prairie vistas and a re-meandered creek that offers improved stormwater-storage capacity and greater flood resistance to the surrounding community. Most of our forest preserves feature trails and picnic shelters, and some host special-use areas and services, including off-leash dog areas, model craft areas, family or youth group campgrounds, boat rentals and even winter activities like snow tubing or cross-country and snowshoe rentals.

Do you have any programs in the works?

The Forest Preserve District is always looking to improve the forest preserves’ offerings, amenities and services. Our master plan process will help us to reshape our future programs and strengthen those that already exist.

What are some overall trends you are seeing in forests and nature parks today?

Today, an ever-growing body of scientific research finds that nature is good for the body, mind and spirit; nature makes us healthier, sharper and happier! That’s why it’s imperative to continue to advance our cause to connect people to nature – whether they be homeowners in DuPage County, or family, friends or even business guests traveling from out-of-state to our local area.

What are some challenges you are seeing today?

The Forest Preserve District owns 12 percent of all land in DuPage County, and we’ve done our part to preserve this land, restore its natural resources and make it accessible to residents. However, not much land exists for purchase to connect green space across the county; our organizational focus has now shifted from one of acquisition to one of management and maintenance of the land and its resources in our possession. Another of our great challenges is perfecting a balance between the “natural” and “developed” states, or offering up pristine natural areas complete with healthy plant and animal communities with a right-sized mix of trails, picnic shelters, off-leash dog areas and manmade amenities (or hardscapes) for recreation purposes. Combatting nonnative and invasive plants and animals in the preserves is a constant, and our ecologists do a good job at prescribing habitat-management plans to maintain a healthy diversity of native species.

Where do you see the Forest Preserve District in five years?

We are in the process of reaching out to our community — including DuPage County residents, forest preserve fans, partner agencies, employees and volunteers — to help us create a master plan for the next five years. From their input, the Forest Preserve District will prioritize its conservation and preservation initiatives in the county. We’re looking at land acquisition, habitat restoration, development of new preserve areas and trails, maintenance of existing facilities and amenities, and even the preservation of historic buildings. We value our community’s input and believe such outreach best serves them and their needs. Stayed tuned, because there’s more to come!

 

 

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