The 77-acre Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park has been closed since 2021 when unexploded munitions were found on the property, a remnant of the land’s former life as part of the Fort Sheridan Army base.
With the U.S. Navy having recently presented a report to the EPA on its lengthy review of the site, expectations are high that the preserve — including its mile-long stretch of lakefront — will reopen sometime this summer.
And when it does, the land will be under new management.
Pending final approval, Openlands will transfer the Lakeshore Preserve to the Lake County Forest Preserves, which owns the adjacent 250-acre Fort Sheridan preserve.
“Openlands has a long, successful track record of acquiring critical parcels and transferring them at the appropriate time to qualified landowners,” said Jerry Adelmann, Openlands president and CEO, in a statement. “We focus on establishing trusted relationships within communities, protecting vital ecosystems and creating access to nature for all.”
Apart from offering free, public access to Lake Michigan, the Lakeshore and Fort Sheridan preserves are notable for their rare bluffs — up to 70-feet high — and ravines, comprising three separate ecosystems and untold micro-ecosystems. The unique setting is considered to be of statewide ecological significance and is home to at least six threatened and endangered plant species.
Forest preserve officials said they expect to develop a master plan for the new acreage and its integration with Fort Sheridan.
“Openlands did an excellent job creating accessible trails through the sensitive ravine and blufftop habitats, installing bridges and staircases and did exceptional restoration work,” said Alex Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves, in a statement. “We look forward to building on their investments in the site to incorporate the new acreage into the Fort Sheridan experience.”
As part of the deal, Openlands will also transfer nearly $1.3 million to the Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Forest Preserves. The funds will be used to establish a long-term endowment to support ongoing ecological management of the site.
The Lake County Forest Preserves board of commissioners is expected to approve the land transfer at its June 14 meeting.