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Virtual programming. Scaled-back events. Socially distanced hikes.

Planning for fall has been an unusual process for suburban nature centers amid the restrictions and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. But as they navigate social distancing regulations, programming and facility leaders say they have one key advantage: Many of their best and most educational autumn activities take place outdoors.

Some organizers have opted to transition entirely to online or take-home formats. Others are offering a blend of in-person and remote options while using the natural environment as their greatest resource. And they all recognize their plans can change rapidly as COVID-19 case numbers and state guidelines evolve.

Here are the plans nine suburban nature centers have in place for this fall:

Forest Preserves of Cook County

Forest preserve leaders have been working out the details of in-person and virtual programming for the fall — a slower planning process than normal due to the coronavirus, said Jacqui Ulrich, deputy director of conservation and experiential programming. Topics will likely include the fall foliage, seasonal gardening, native plants and animals, hibernation and the county’s cultural history.

Regardless of how the schedule looks, Ulrich says, the grounds of facilities such as the Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington Hills and the River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook remain open for visitors to explore the flora and fauna of Cook County.

Read more here.

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The following notice now appears on the Crabtree web page:

“Starting July 6, Nature Center grounds trails and bathrooms will reopen seven days per week, from 8 am to 4 pm. Nature Center exhibit buildings remain closed. Parking will be limited to 50% capacity to help limit crowding.”

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Board Members of the Cook County Forest Preserves Conservation & Policy Council
Front row: Terry Guen, Laurel Ross, Peter Ellis. Back row: Commissioner Larry Suffredin, Wendy Paulson, Michael DeSantiago, Sylvia Jenkins, Mark Templeton, Emily Harris, Arnold Randal, Commissioner Stanely Moore. Not pictured: Rob Castaneda.

Nature has never been more important than it is right now. People are looking to it to reduce stress, stay healthy and find solace. Many in the Chicago region are flocking to our greatest natural asset, the Forest Preserves of Cook County. We applaud President Preckwinkle, General Superintendent Arnold Randall and his team for their commitment to keep the preserves open just when they are needed most and when many other public spaces are closed. At the same time, we are troubled by reports of illegal and unacceptable behavior by a very few — crowding, going off trail, picking wildflowers, trampling sensitive vegetation, letting dogs run rampant.

We are so glad people are discovering — or rediscovering — these extraordinary landscapes and the more than 350 miles of trails they include. The ability to be active and outside with family members is a blessing. But the privilege of free access to the Forest Preserves carries a responsibility, too, especially in this time of extreme and necessary social guidelines.

That means respecting the space of other visitors, obeying preserve rules and honoring the habitats of animals and plants for whom the preserves are home. It’s an opportune time to visit a less well known preserve — maybe a place you’ve never been before — or to visit at a less crowded time. Check FPDCC.com before you go.

We invite you not only to visit, but to join us in protecting and restoring the natural habitats of the preserves. (See, for example: https://fpdcc.com/volunteer/ or https://northbranchrestoration.org). Once we emerge from this challenging time and restrictions are lifted, consider joining thousands of volunteers who give their time, energy and expertise to help make nature in our preserves even more healthy, diverse and welcoming.

Board Members of the Cook County Forest Preserves Conservation & Policy Council

Wendy Paulson, Chairman

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Restoration efforts known as the Barrington Greenway Initiative in a 14,000-acre area covering portions of Cook, Lake and McHenry counties could get a boost through a pending agreement between seven agencies, including the Cook and Lake county forest preserve districts. The Cuba Marsh is among the preserves that would be expected to benefit from a new agreement meant to speed restoration and preservation efforts in areas covered by the Barrington Greenway Initiative. (Daily Herald File Photo, 2018)

You may have visited forest preserves in southwestern Lake County, northwestern Cook County or a conservation area in southeast McHenry County for a calming respite from the din of daily life.

Cuba Marsh, Spring Lake and Silver Creek in those respective geographic areas, for example, provide different experiences and getaway opportunities.

What you may not know is those and other protected areas in the region all are pieces of a much larger whole known as the Barrington Greenway Initiative.

Now seven agencies, including the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Lake County Forest Preserve District and McHenry County Conservation District, are working on an agreement to speed up restoration of more than 14,000 acres of prairies, oak savannas, wetlands and woodlands that comprise the Greenway.

Read more here.

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A monument at the entrance to Horizon Farms

For over ten years we have covering the ups and downs, and the ins and outs of the Horizon Farms legal sagas in Barrington Hills. Along the way, many newspaper articles have been published, and invariable they’ve included pictures of the property signs or the majestic main entrance to Horizon Farms with two horse statues greeting visitors as they enter (one of which is pictured above).

These photos became so familiar over the years that some readers gave the statues nicknames. There was Bob and Fritz, Patty and Karen; you name it, there was some name based invariable on local politics that people identified with those statues. Well, call them what you will today, they’ve disappeared.

As the photo below shows, old spotlights mark where the statues shone at night, but there are no horses, and that leads to the quandary of where they went. So if readers know the whereabouts of our Bob or Fritz (or both), please let us know!

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Cook County Commissioner Kevin B. Morrison

Cook County Commissioner Kevin B. Morrison and State Rep. Michelle Mussman will host a COVID-19 virtual town hall at noon Friday to discuss the county and state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resources available to residents and businesses.

The meeting will be live streamed on their Facebook pages and abit.ly/2VppIC1. Residents can submit questions beforehand to District15@cookcountyil.gov.

Morrison’s 15th District includes Barrington Township, and his contact information can be found here. He is a voting member of the Forest Preserve District Board which oversees Crabtree Nature Center, Horizon Farm and Spring Lake preserves.

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As social distancing concerns grow with the rising temperatures this spring, suburban forest preserve officials say they continue to monitor the size of crowds at their facilities but intend to keep most open to the public.

That could change quickly depending on public behavior.

Despite social media initiatives, ample signage and rangers walking the grounds, there have been cases where crowds needed to be dispersed at preserves. In some instances — such as with Rocky Glen Waterfall near Lemont and the Swallow Cliff Stairs near Palos Hills — sites were closed because of overcrowding.

“We may close more sites,” said Carl Vogel, director of communications for the Cook County Forest Preserve. “That’s absolutely a possibility. But we want people to follow the guidelines and help us keep the forest preserves open.”

Read more here.

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(Click on image to enlarge)

This morning workmen with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County were busy locking gates and placing signs such as the one pictured above at Crabtree Nature Center. The signs read:

“To follow public health guidelines for the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) the nature center bulding & grounds are closed until further notice. “

What’s ironic is the signs read, “feel free,” at the bottom.  Though no signs were present, all entrances to Horizon Farms were closed as well.

Kevin B. Morrison is our Commissioner in Cook County, and his contact information can be viewed here.  “Feel free” to contact him.

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346 Old Sutton Road

“In late February, the Village of Barrington Hills became aware of a home in our jurisdiction that was being marketed as a short-term rental space for uses such as vacations, conference centers and weddings, by accommodation facilitators such as Evolve, Vrbo and Airbnb.  The advertised use of the home suggested that it was not in compliance with an individual’s residential use of a home. 

The use of a residential property for purely commercial purposes is not allowed in Barrington Hills under the Village’s zoning regulations. 

On March 5, 2020, at the direction of the Village Board and Administration, the Village Attorney contacted one of the Property Owners and notified them that the advertised use of the home is strictly prohibited under the Village’s zoning regulations and could not lawfully occur. 

On March 6, 2020, the Property Owners’ Attorney contacted our Village Attorney to address this matter who, in turn, reiterated that the advertised use of the home was illegal and informed the Property Owners’ Attorney that the online Vrbo and Airbnb advertisements, as well as signage on the Property, should be immediately removed.  The Attorney for the Property Owner concurred with the Village Attorney’s assessment and stated he would advise the Property Owner that such use was prohibited and that the advertisements and signage must be removed. 

At no time was the Village aware that the Property Owners had a scheduled event for Friday, March 6, 2020.  The Property Owners did not cancel the event, despite the advanced notice from the Village that such use is strictly prohibited under the Village’s zoning regulations.   In the early morning of March 7, 2020, the Barrington Hills Police Department responded to call of shots fired at the Property.

The Village of Barrington Hills is deeply saddened by the events that occurred. Our current zoning codes exist to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and to guard against the use of property in the Village which is not in keeping with the Village’s residential standards. Please be aware, this is an ongoing investigation and the Village can only release limited information. The Village will remain vigilant to halt such other uses as it becomes aware of any other property being used for short term rental.  The Barrington Hills Police Department would like to remind and encourage residents to never refrain from reporting suspicious activity or requesting assistance or service.”

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Barrington Hills police and firefighter/paramedics from Barrington -Countryside FPD responded about 3:34 a.m. Saturday March 7, 2020 to a report that multiple people were shot at or near a home in the block of 300 Old Sutton Road.

Police and firefighter/paramedics received a report that there were multiple gunshot victims. At least two victim were transported to a local hospital. At least one victim was possibly dead at the scene.

Police are investigating whether an online marketplace for lodging, such as Airbnb, was being used to stay at a luxury home and host a party at the luxury home. The minimum property size in Barrington Hills is 5 acres, and the neighborhood includes horse ranches and multi-million dollar homes. A home down the street on Old Sutton Road is currently listed for $11.8 million dollars. There have been reports nationwide of disturbing parties at luxury homes or luxury apartment shared temporarily via Airbnb or other lodging sharing broker services using a smartphone app.

Read more here.

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