The Cook County Forest Preserves are mostly off limits for citizen to enjoy ! These parks have become "toys" for Chicago politicians to get their relatives and friends appointed to forest preserve jobs and Watchmen positions, with the perk of being able to live in cheap housing within the preserves in exchange for dubious watchmen duties. The same is the situation at Crabtree Forest Preserve in Barrington HIlls, Illinois !
Crabtree has only three well-defined hiking paths of varying lengths in its three miles of trail. 1,000 acres make up the Crabtree Nature Center near Barrington Hills. The 200 acres that extends across Palantine Road defines the total acerage, 1,200, of Cook County's Crabtree Forest Preserve.
Hikers are expected to stay on the trails, all of which are located in a small area of Crabtree Nature Preserve near its Nature Center. Signs are posted along the trails reminding voters of preserve policy, and wandering off the trails would indeed be foolish as dense brush and invasive buckhorn do not invite further exploration apart from what can be seen following the defined trails.
Some might say that such caution is warranted, as it could save rare nature from over-use, trampling, wildflower picking, and such, but when a conservation policy has as its aim to return preserves to how they were before man entered the scene to alter the natural habitat, problems develop: 1) The expensive law enforcement department, with its political appointment, is unable to police the preserves, and 2) Drug czars seize the opportunity to pay illegal workers to plant and nurse lucrative marijuana field.
Such was the situation in July of 2007, where about 200 yards from a highway commuters hum along every day, authorities found 38,000 marijuana plants worth millions, described as "the nation's largest illegal cannabis cultivation schemes." www.policeone.com/drug-interdiction-narcotics/articles/1292910-Ill-authorities-bust-then-burn-10M-worth-of-pot/
Conservation also means paying attention by promoting ambitious programs to monitor and care for woods, prairies, and wetlands. Perhaps more natural burns by law enforcement are needed to counter the hands-off-approach now favored?
Wouldn't it make sense for regular visitors to Cook County forest preserves to take it upon themselves to report anything out of line? After all, it was an intern studying foxes who caught the pot farmers at Crabtree.
What about camping? As reported in the Chicago Sun-Times on May 9, 2012: "A century ago, city dwellers and suburbanites alike could simply head to the nearby Cook County Forest Preserves to go camping -- and could even build their own cabins within the preserves' boundaries anywhere they saw fit."
In 1929 camping was stopped when officials became upset that campers "came and went wherever they pleased, littering the ground and marring the beauty and serenity of the woodlands." http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/11739954-418/cook-county-fores...
The Sun-Times followed up with an editorial on May 11, 2012 urging that camping be allowed the Cook County Forest Preserves. "Let the tents into Cook County forest preserves." Expressed in the editorial was the necessity to ensure that camping areas are not overrun by people more interested in all-night partying than in sleeping under the stars. Richard Louy was mentioned, author of the: "Last child in the Wood" and other books, who is of the opinion that kids don't get enough time in the woods and how natural surroundings sharpen kids' senses, lower obesity rates, and even ease attention -deficit disorders. http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/11798330-474/editorial-let-the-tents...
Cook County Forest Preserve Supt. Arnold Randall is currently working on a plan to once again open up pockets of the 68,000-acres which define the Cook County Forest Preserves. The process of developing a new Camping Master Plan was first announced in the Daily Herald on March 22, 2012. It's intent was to assess whether there is a need within the county for additional camping experiences and programs to engage broader populations. www.dailyherald.com/article/20120315/submitted/703159511/print/
In a follow up report on August 21 by Dale Bowman of the Suntimes an early draft was released of the Cook County Camping Master Plan. A series of Public open meetings followed to present the master plan and receive input from the public (The elements of the draft proposal are extensive, Hopefully the proposal is not all talk with little followup no action!). http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/11798330-474/editorial-let-the-tents...
While a ban dating back to1929 has kept tents out of the Cook County preserves, some adjoining collar countries have welcomed campers. Dupage Forest Preserve Commissioner, Roger Kotecki, has kept camping in Blackwell Forest Preserve popular and safe in part by banning alcohol, closing the gates to the camping area an hour after dark to prevent people from coming and going all night. http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/11798330-474/editorial-let-the-tents...
Jamie Sotonoff of the Daily Herald asked the following questions about camping in Cook County forest preserves in his article of August 22, "Cook County wants to expand, improve camping sites": Are you in favor of new bunkhouses at Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington Hills and new cabins at Camp Reinberg in Palatine? Do you want places in Cook County forest preserves where families can camp?" http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120822/news/708229952/print/
The already mentioned Blackwell Forest Preserve in neighboring Dupage County has elaborate camping facilities. The following link ( http://www.dupageforest.com/Recreation/ActivitiesAndFacilities/Camping.html) has information about the nature of the camping facility -- 62 wooded and semiwooded family campsites, open from May through September on Friday and Saturday nights with additional nights during holiday weekends -- and how to reserve one of its camping sites. Blackwell also offers Youth-Group Camping with 12 semiwooded campsites that can accommodate up to 25 campers open the year-round.
Also in Dupage County, Waterfall Glen (http://www.dupageforest.com/preserve.aspx?id=4224) and Greene Valley (http://www.dupageforest.com/conservation/forestpreserves%29/Greene_Valley.html) have year-round camping facilities for youth groups.
Although not as elaborate, neighboring Lake County forest preserves offers youth group camping sites at Fox River, Lakewood, and Van Patten Woods. http://www.lcfpd.org/preserves/index.cfm?fuseaction=preserves.viewActDetail&object_id=145
With the camping proposals now on the drawing board for Cook County Forest Preserves, do you feel confident that, if followed through, the preserves, now advantageous for illegal marijuana growing, will morph into beautiful county parks as are throughout the world!
At the same time, citizens will be traveling just short distances to and from the parks, precluding the expense of purchasing gallons of ever increasingly expensive gasoline!