The Beauty of the Nature Conservancy

Thank you. Ben Joravsky’s Neighborhood News story (January 13) presented a refreshingly balanced picture of the concerns raised by current mountain bike use on forest preserve lands. I would like to underscore two points that were mentioned:

First: We in Cook County are uniquely blessed among metropolitan areas because nearly a century ago, farsighted leaders recognized the great value of preserving landscape-scale natural areas. The Nature Conservancy’s long-standing partnership with the Forest Preserve District was forged because of the tremendous ecological significance of the 67,800 acres owned by the District, which contain some of the largest and best surviving examples of the oak woodlands, prairie, and wetlands that once covered our state. These vast acres are more precious than many realize: they are habitat for hundreds of species of rare flowers, butterflies, and animals. Equally important, they are a place where the millions of residents of northeastern Illinois have an extraordinary opportunity to connect with nature, and to introduce their children to the beauty and pleasure of the natural world. Remember: we live in a state where more than 99.9% of the natural land is gone!–developed or farmed.

Second: No one is advocating the banning of bikes in the preserves. What virtually everyone agrees is needed is a sound, sane, enforceable policy that will meet people’s needs without risking our natural heritage. Throughout this controversy the District, The Nature Conservancy, the volunteers of the Palos Restoration Project, and others have worked hard to find common ground among the disagreeing groups. The headline writers and bike groups’ publicity machines have used words like “clash,” “hot conflict,” and “showdown.” Even your very responsible article had “collide” in its headline. In reality, that’s the opposite of what the Forest Preserve District has done. They have, in fact, formed a trails committee to advise on policy with representation from all interest groups, myself included. We hope that this process will soon result in a policy acceptable, if not perfect, to all.

In making policy decisions we looked to the District’s authorizing legislation, which makes it very clear that forest preserves are not parks but sanctuaries of native landscape “for the purpose of protecting and preserving the flora, fauna, and scenic beauties . . . and to restore, restock, and preserve the natural forests and said lands . . . as nearly as may be in their natural state and condition for the purpose of education, pleasure, and recreation of the public.”

The Nature Conservancy is strongly in favor of recreational activities in the forest preserves! But recreation policy must be compatible with the protection and restoration of the biological diversity and ecological health of the preserves, so future generations may experience the last vestiges of northeastern Illinois’ precious natural heritage.

We like the analogy in one recent letter to an editor that compared unregulated mountain bike use to allowing horseback riding on the county golf courses. Can you imagine the outcry to protect the greens?

Laurel Ross, Field Representative

The Nature Conservancy