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DuPage Forest Board examines importance of open space

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is looking at how to best use the 25,000 acres under its control in the county.

The district has long operated on a “90-10” policy of preserving 90 percent of its property as natural open space, leaving 10 percent for sites with improvements.

But with shrinking opportunities for land acquisition in a county that is essentially built-out, the 90-10 policy is being questioned.

“There aren’t any big tracts of land left,” Forest Board member Joe Cantore said. “We have to adjust our vision on what we want.”

His fellow board member Linda Painter suggested rethinking the formula, floating the idea of an “80-10-10” policy, with 10 percent in a gray area that might accommodate uses that don’t fit into either category.

Board President D. “Dewey” Pierotti agreed that the current policy was one that should be addressed.

“What’s the long-term effect,” he said was the question that should be answered about any change in policy. “Are you going to make it 80-20, or maintain the 90-10.”

But as commissioners brainstormed about what the strategic plan should include in the way of land allocation, the reality of the district’s commitment to open space became apparent.

Cantore noted that the district had an obligation to honor the wishes of voters who supported it in referendums, saying “voters gave money to acquire open space.”

Pierotti agreed that open space was crucial to the district’s mission while acknowledging the difficulty of determining future needs.

“We want to protect as much space as possible,” said Pierotti. “This is a very complex issue.”

The issue is only one that the district is contemplating as part of an ongoing analysis done by marketing consulting firm Davidoff Communications. The approach will include public surveys and a series of community dialogues.

“We’re trying to get everybody’s input on our future direction,” Sue Olafson, director of communications and marketing for the district, said.

John Davidoff posed several questions to forest board members, including what changes in focus they thought necessary.

“Find out what we can do to make ourselves more user-friendly,” Shannon Burns said.

Burns also suggested finding ways to make better use of the district’s volunteers.

“We have to have a greater emphasis on the use of technology,” board member Tim Whelan said.

Painter agreed and suggested locating satellite offices in various parts of the district to accommodate routine activities like applications for dog park and fishing licenses and securing camping space.

“People expect it,” she said.

Painter also suggested making an effort to make clear the different mission of a forest preserve district as contrasted with a park district, and noted that citizens tended to confuse the district with the DuPage County Board.

“That’s just an obstacle we have to overcome,” she said.

Burns said that she would like to see more emphasis on natural resources and restoration of land, especially in cases where the district removes unwanted and invasive species, but didn’t plant anything in its place.

Whelan agreed, saying, “I would like to see some input from the public.”

Davidoff asked the commissioners for examples of the district engaging in activities beyond the scope of its mission, and board member Mary Lou Wehrli gave the example of archery.

But she also noted the popularity of archery and other activities that might not be compatible with the district’s mission.

“There’s a huge demand (for horseback riding, archery and golf),” she said.

The first community dialogue will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. April 30 at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.

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