Forest district sets Naperville forum Wednesday

A cyclist pulls her child behind her bike on the DuPage River Trail just north of Bailey Road on Thursday, May 16, 2013 in Naperville. Open space along rivers and creeks in consider valuble to the DuPage Forest Preserve. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media
A cyclist pulls her child behind her bike on the DuPage River Trail just north of Bailey Road on Thursday, May 16, 2013 in Naperville. Open space along rivers and creeks in consider valuble to the DuPage Forest Preserve. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

Officials at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County are putting together the first strategic plan in the agency’s 99-year history. A public forum set for 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St., is designed to gather input from residents.

The long-term planning project came at the suggestion of several district commissioners, including Mary Lou Wehrli.

“I come from Naperville. This is what we do,” said Wehrli, who joined the board at the end of 2012. “It is about asking people what they want and what their (elected officials) can do.”

The process, being launched a year ahead of the district’s centennial observance, will help guide its decision-makers for the next five years.

Wehrli surmised that until the Forest Preserve District split from the DuPage County Board two decades ago, the business done by the full board was primarily “about the county” — roads, development, zoning and other big-picture concerns took much of the members’ time and attention. There wasn’t a strong push for long-range planning for open space, even though county preserves comprise 13 percent of the land in DuPage, until recently.

“We’re more sophisticated as a county now,” Wehrli said. “We recognize and bring in the skill sets of people to help us plan.”

Also contributing to the fresh look toward the future is a six-member board of commissioners that added three new faces 16 months ago, and the hiring of Executive Director Arnie Biondo late last year. Additional change will come about when longtime commission President D. “Dewey” Pierotti steps down later this year. Commissioner Joe Cantore, who prevailed over Wehrli in last month’s Republican primary to clinch the nomination for the presidency, has no Democratic challenger in the November election.

Wednesday’s forum — the first in a series of six being held, one per district, over the next two weeks — will delve more deeply into area residents’ perceptions and preferences than the 22-question district survey currently online. That questionnaire, which can be filled out by residents and nonresidents of DuPage County until May 15, is available at www.dupageforest.org/survey/.

Wehrli said residents will find it beneficial to participate in both pieces of the process.

“We want to ask how we’re doing,” she said. “We’re really listening.”

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