Officials have reopened the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park more than two years after it was shut down due to explosive materials, possibly from World War II, being found.
The Lake County Forest Preserves on Thursday reopened the more than 71-acre parcel, which is now part of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve on the border of Highland Park and Lake Forest.
The donation transferring ownership of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve from Openlands, a Chicago-based regional conservation organization and land trust, to the Lake County Forest Preserves occurred on Wednesday.
The property features a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, three restored ravines and blufftops, accessible trails, overlooks and art installations.
“We are thrilled this picturesque addition to Fort Sheridan is now in public ownership for all to explore and enjoy,” Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves, said.
Openlands assumed ownership of the site, part of the former Fort Sheridan Army Base, in phases in 2007 and 2010.
The area, which is one of few publicly accessible ravines and blufftop ecosystems in the area, is of statewide ecological significance and home to at least six threatened and endangered plant species.
Thousands of migrating birds rest and refuel at the preserve each year.
“Openlands did a wonderful job creating accessible trails through the sensitive ravine and blufftop habitats, installing bridges and staircases and did exceptional restoration work,” Lake County Forest Preserves Commissioner Paul Frank said.
“We look forward to building on their investments in the site and to incorporating the new acreage into the Fort Sheridan experience,” Frank said.
Openlands donated $1.36 million for conservation and habitat restoration on the property as part of the transfer.
The Preservation Foundation, which is the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves, received the gift and will establish a long-term endowment, which will support ongoing ecological management of the 71 acres.
“This is the third time in the past 18 months that Openlands has transferred land to another qualifying entity in Lake County, protecting nature for all,” CEO and President of Openlands Jerry Adelmann said.
“As long-standing partners of the Lake County Forest Preserves, we’re pleased to see the preserve thrive as part of Fort Sheridan. We look forward to future partnerships, building on our 60-year track record as a trusted leader on behalf of land conservation in Lake County and across the region,” Adelmann said.
Officials say visitors have an important role to play now that the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve has reopened.
“We ask everyone to do their part when visiting the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve,” Lake County Forest Preserves Executive Director Alex Ty Kovach said.
“Visit only during open hours, which are 6:30 am until sunset, every day of the year, and remember that the entire site, including the shoreline, is closed at night,” Kovach said.
In April 2021, Openlands Lakeshore Preserve was shut down after police said that explosive materials were found on a shoreline in the same week.
The explosives were a hand grenade and aircraft flares, possibly from World War II, and were safely removed.