Laona Heights Sugar River Colored Sands Sugar River Two Rivers Ferguson Hartley Memorial Trask Bridge Four Lakes Pecatonica River Pecatonica Wetlands Crooked River Grove Creek Seward Bluffs Klehm Forest Preserve Severson Dells Fuller Memorial Cedar Cliff Indian Hill Hinchliff Memorial Kilbuck Bluffs Trailside Kishwaukee Gorge South Kishwaukee Gorge North Rockford Rotary Kishwaukee River Oak Ridge Blackhawk Springs Deer Run Espenscheid Memorial McKiski County Line Kieselburg Roland Olson Stone Bridge Clayton Andrews Ledges Hononegah J. Norman Jensen Millrace Isle Macktown Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve Headquarters

Board Strategic Planning Session Minutes January 4, 2016

Forest Preserves of Winnebago County


Forest Preserve Headquarters

January 4, 2016


PRESENT                                                                   STAFF

Judy Barnard                                                               Mike Holan, Executive Director

Mike Eickman                                                             Tom Hartley, Land and Development

Audrey Johnson

Cheryl Maggio                                                             PRESENTOR

Jeff Tilly                                                                      Jerry Paulson, Land Advisory Council President


ABSENT                                                                     GUEST

Mary McNamara Bernsten                                           Lee Johnson

Gloria Lind



The meeting was called to order at 5:25 PM, by President Barnard. President Barnard called the roll.


PUBLIC PARTICIPATION, AWARDS, and PRESENTATIONS     The purpose of the meeting is a presentation by the Land Advisory Council (LAC). The meeting was turned over to Jerry Paulson and Tom Hartley.


Paulson commented that the LAC has already presented to the Board their basic operational procedures. They also worked on the Greenway Plan, which was presented to the Commissioners at their last meeting. The next step was to look at actual properties that might be acquired in keeping with the guidelines that have been established.


The Land Advisory Council conducted a SWOT Analysis. One of the primary strengths is that the District has done a good job over the years of acquiring land in vital areas and along corridors. They have assembled a good staff. Weaknesses include a dwindling tax base, loss of staff capacity and ability to acquire new lands.



Since 2008, price of land has dropped. Private funds are available which the Forest Preserves have been able to access. Development has come to a standstill, creating a window of opportunity for land acquisition.


Threats that were identified include ecological threats and I-39 corridor development corridor along the Kishwaukee River and Baxter Road/Beltline Road. It is up to the Council and the Forest Preserve Commissioners, as well as the environmental community as a whole, to make sure development takes place in an ecologically safe way.


As the Forest Preserve District preserves new land, they need to consider the following: What can the staff realistically manage?


The Council came up with different levels of land acquisition, and they are asking the Board to decide which of the five are feasible.


The process involved the council looking at all the options and then prioritizing. In order to attach meaningful numbers to these options, staff has categorized different lands for each option. They have also created planning documents. They are close to having fleshed out different parcels of property that would fall under each of the options.


The options are as follows:

  1. No more land acquisition. We are not going to look for any new land until financial situation improves. Doesn’t mean we might not buy a parcel here or there. (Land Advisory Council does not support). Put resources into protecting the land that we have
  2. Only look at parcels that are inholdings, or that we want to acquire to enhance existing properties.       Ones that would make it easier to manage existing preserves.

Example: Properties along Kishwaukee River.

  1. Areas with significant natural resource value, as determined by the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan (IWAP), The Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) conducted by the Illinois Natural History Survey, those with endangered species, or otherwise identified as having value. They have identified more lands in this category.
  2. Complete acquisitions in Kishwaukee Gorge – 375 acres – (between Cherry Valley and New Milford), because this is where development is still occurring, properties are fragile and they are    naturally significant. These always have been identified as a priority for the Forest Preserve          District.
  3. Enlarge existing Preserves (in addition to #4) – Hartley, Laona Heights, Severson Dells, Kinnikinnick Creek, Grove Creek, and Sugar River Alder. Not as much restoration and maintenance investment as there are already existing preserves with existing staff. This category includes a considerable amount of land.
  4. Expand holdings along Pecatonica River, Sugar River, Kishwaukee River and Kilbuck Creek – looking at major additions (this includes Ferguson).
  5. Lower priority – Create preserves in new areas (may require partnerships)

-Lower Rock – near County Line

-Upper Rock, South Beloit


To manage these areas would require capital construction and additional staff (this would include Nature at the Confluence.)


The Land Advisory Council recommended Options 2, 3 and 4 after taking all the variables into consideration. If we want to complete Options 2 – 4, we should project land acquisition costs at $7 million at $5,000/acre to $14 million at $10,000/acre.


When we talk about acquiring land, we have to know what funding strategies are available. Who might we partner with? Fund-raising is an option. The Land Advisory Council would like to know in which areas the Commissioners would like them to focus their efforts.


Johnson wants to be sure the board does not get panicky because of current lack of funds. This is a long-term process. Barnard noted that there are grants that can go for wetlands, habitat, etc. Steve Chapman will report on bonding ability if we were to re-bond – at next meeting.


Barnard asked Holan to comment. He feels that once you get past the first option, there are costs to the District; cost of staff time, capital improvements, etc. Even an infill property (Ex: Bauer) require some costs, for example, putting in a trail – add that cost, mowing, etc. Even if we are looking at mothballing land, you might end up with invasive plant species, etc. Being that we have a heavy agricultural community throughout the county, the Forest Preserve’s invasive species could ultimately adversely affect their lands.


A big part of our mission is adding and improving natural resources, yet it is usually the smallest staff. The current restoration staff consists of three people, plus two arborists.


As you get into numbers six and seven, you may have public issues – access, toilets, etc. Boards down the road may want an area improved that was not intended to be improved. Some of these we have very little access to at this time.


Holan also mentioned that not for profits have an easier time raising money – it’s very seldom in Forest Preserve agencies that the board wants to be fund-raisers. We currently do not have development staff to fund-raise. Seed money is the biggest thing.


Paulson concluded by saying that by having a Strategic Land Acquisition/Land Use Plan – it allows the Commissioners and staff to be able to say what we will do and what we will not do. The ability to say no can be critical. Are we willing to say no to new projects now?


By setting this direction, this will allow the Board to focus on what we wish to achieve that fits our mission, matches what we wish to accomplish, and allows us to work our plan.


Maggio asked a question about the Kishwaukee – are these different parcels that make up the acquisition wish list? The answer is yes. She commented that along with this, Commissioners and staff need to consider what lands would be used by/benefit public, as well. Paulson replies that that was inherent in the properties that staff came up with.


He added that Winnebago County recognized the significance of the Kishwaukee River, long before any of the adjacent counties recognized that. To maintain leadership in that respect would be to value that corridor for its environmental value.


Maggio also wants to be sure that we value the environmental value. Do we need more acres for public use? Are they using the ones they have?


Option 5 is to protect existing resources – they are preserves that are currently too small. Laona Heights is considered one of best forests in the state. Yet, a big wind storm blew down half the trees in it because there is nothing around it protecting it.


Holan commented that most Forest Preserves have 80/20 or 90/10 ratios of land preserved vs. land developed for public use. Winnebago County is hovering around 75 percent natural, 25 percent developed for pubic passive use. What we probably need to do is to bring to the board some sort of land use policy as far as percentages, stating how we hold it in the future.


Forest Preserves are limited to 55,000 total preserved acres by state law. Most large agencies are at 25,000 acres, but they have no more land to buy. Without those policies in place, you may get more development; you may get planners that want more urban features.


Johnson commented that it’s to our advantage to have the Council review properties before they come to committee.


Holan added that it’s extremely important if we go to referendum to have partners to help push it. Staff cannot. It’s hard to pass a referendum when money is so dear.


Barnard thanked the Council and Tom Hartley for their excellent work on this project.




Strategic Land Conservation Plan – No action was taken and was forwarded to the January 20, 2016 Board Meeting as an action item.



Meeting adjourned at 7:02 PM.

Respectfully Submitted,

Judith Barnard

President, Board of Commissioners