Stantec to analyse DuPage County forest preserves

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waterfall glen forest preserver
The Waterfall Glen forest preserve (image from Stantec)

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has selected global planning and design firm Stantec to assist district staff in the analysis of Blackwell, Greene Valley, and Waterfall Glen Forest Preserves.

“Encompassing more than 5,500 acres, the preserves are among the most popular and most visited destinations for hiking, running, biking, fishing, boating, camping, archery, and a variety of other outdoor activities in Chicago’s western suburbs,” says a statement from Stantec. “The number of visitors to the preserves has increased dramatically over the past year as more people have sought time outdoors during the pandemic for safe exercise and recreational activities.”

The analysis will be used to update master plans for each property that will consider existing conditions, natural resources, and visitor needs to create a framework for the management and upkeep of these popular amenities. The focus of the master plans will be used to identify capital improvements that can be implemented over time as funding is available. The plans will also build on the overarching guidance provided by the district-wide Master Plan prepared in 2019. Key priorities of that plan are to protect and restore natural resources; provide and improve nature experiences and outdoor recreation; maintain and improve trails; and invest in existing mission-aligned facilities.

“We are excited to be working with project director Jessica Ortega and the District staff to study these properties from the standpoints of conservation and ecological restoration, active and passive recreation, as well as financial enterprise strategy and operational sustainability,” said Todd Meyer, Stantec principal-in-charge, in the May 10 news release.

“The updated master plans will create an opportunity for the district to enhance these treasured spaces for generations to come. Through the guidance of district priorities and stakeholder input, we will be working with the District to create a road map for future improvements that balance visitor needs with conservation of the natural environment. Our team will bring a holistic approach to the process by merging our expertise in market analysis, stakeholder and community engagement, ecosystem restoration, recreation planning, and landscape architecture.”

Stantec says the project has launched with extensive data collection and visits to each preserve. Work will also involve market and property analysis, which is underway and will continue through summer. Over the coming months, the district and Stantec will be facilitating a series of stakeholder meetings in order to gather ideas, opinions, and comments regarding future improvements, which will be considered and evaluated as part of the analysis of the preserves. Each study will consider the unique features, landscape typologies, land uses, access, circulation, and diverse user needs within the three forest preserves to ultimately inform the master plans.

Blackwell Forest Preserve

Located in Warrenville, Blackwell spans 1,366 acres and offers visitors trails, fishing, picnicking, boating, and an off-leash dog area. The preserve is also home to the district’s only family campground, in addition to a youth-group campground. Key elements that will be investigated include identifying potential improvements to vehicular circulation and pedestrian connections; considering upgrades to ADA accommodations and other support infrastructure; modifying boat launch facilities; and evaluating separate access to the family campground.

Greene Valley Forest Preserve

Containing 1,388 acres in Naperville, Greene Valley is one of the District’s most botanically diverse sites and is home to an iconic red barn. The preserve includes 12 miles of marked trails, picnic shelters, an off-leash dog area, a model craft area, and youth-group campground. The analysis for this preserve will evaluate recreational amenities while exploring opportunities for the addition of new amenities and habitat improvements. Preserve access and circulation will also be re-evaluated, along with support infrastructure and ADA accommodations.

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

As one of the largest and most unique preserves within the District, Waterfall Glen contains over 2,500 acres of land that surrounds Argonne National Laboratory. It is ecologically diverse and offers a series of beautiful natural settings and elevation changes, including the Rocky Glen waterfall and the Sawmill Creek bluff overlook. The 11-mile loop trail system is a year-round destination for hikers, runners, cyclists, horseback riders, and cross-country skiers.  Key elements of the analysis include access and parking issues near Cass Avenue and Bluff Road to alleviate congestion, reviewing the waterfall area, trail bridge enlargements, addressing support facilities, the youth-group campground and habitat for the federally endangered Hine’s Emerald dragonfly.

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