Created by a public vote in 1922, the FPWC now encompasses 10,300 acres of woods, wetlands, rivers, prairies, and ponds. Hundreds of species of plants and animals inhabit these restored and managed lands, and nearly a million people visit each year.
The Forest Preserves of Winnebago County was the third forest preserve district to be created in Illinois under the act which enabled counties to levy a tax and acquire land for recreation, education and preservation. As prescribed by the Downstate Forest Preserve Act, the District was governed by a board composed of the same individuals serving on the county board. The first forest preserve, Hononegah, was purchased in 1924.
In the early decades, forest preserves were very popular with working class families seeking weekend recreational activities such as picnics, swimming, camping, fishing and golf.
Throughout the next 85 years the forest preserve system grew steadily with diverse additions acquired by purchase and donation. By 1980, the district encompassed 4,600 acres in 28 locations. Throughout the 1990’s and into the 21st century, it nearly doubled its acreage. The district has successfully met the challenge of managing, restoring and patrolling twice as much land, without the ability to raise its tax levy rate proportionally.
In 2010, the first separate elected Board of Commissioners took office. This newly formed governance system allowed FPWC to operate as a politically and financially body separate from the County Board. Since 2010 the district has been governed by this seven-member board of non-partisan volunteer commissioners who are elected at large.
A detailed and fascinating history of FPWC and each individual forest preserve was written by David Bishop and Craig G. Campbell in 1979. History of the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County chronicles the district through from 1922 through 1979.