20 For 20 Retrospective

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve



The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve at Ft. Sheridan was the first-ever land acquisition undertaken by the conservation organization in its 51 year history. This pivotal measure by Openlands was essential to protect a swath of rare and picturesque bluff and ravine habitat found nowhere else in the state of Illinois. Before the Preserve officially opened in 2011, the land had been part of a military installation for more than 110 years. When the U.S. Navy sought to release a portion of the land to the public, Openlands expanded its typical conservation role from that of an advisor to that of a land owner. To make that commitment, the organization needed to understand the restorative, recreational, maintenance and programming endeavors to be expected with a property of this type.

In 2004, Openlands commissioned Conservation Design Forum to do a feasibility study to:
•    evaluate the property’s ecological value and condition
•    formulate a vision for its most beneficial usage
•    specify the ecological restoration and long-term stewardship implications, including costs
•    identify priorities and an overall time frame

The 78-page study called the Fort Sheridan Lakefront Preserve Action Plan was conducted by CDF’s team of recognized authorities in collaborative planning, ravine ecosystems, site analysis protocols, stormwater engineering, native plants of the Chicago region, and restorative site practices.

Research on the historical background of the area provided an understanding of its geologic, ecologic, and cultural significance. The study utilized science-based methods to identify and describe the location, condition and floristic quality of 13 distinct ecological zones throughout the ravine and bluff systems to benchmark species diversity and degradation, forecast potential recovery, and undertake further studies/monitoring. From this analysis, CDF was able to provide Openlands with tactical approaches to address existing and potential threats to the natural areas whether originating inside or outside the Preserve’s boundaries. The Action Plan outlined specific stormwater management, erosion, and restoration management strategies and schedules, as well as suggested guidelines for potential future land development surrounding the Preserve. 

As an ecological and geological treasure, the plan advised that the Preserve develop programming to include educational opportunities and activities that would expand scientific knowledge and create greater public awareness/appreciation. Located next to established communities and park district property, the plan recognized the integral relationship that existed between people and place; identifying low-impact recreational activities which would be compatible with restoration efforts.

With the framework in place to guide the project forward, Openlands took ownership of the 77-acre parcel at a signing ceremony on August 1, 2006. Since that time, a significant portion of the restoration work has been performed to successfully conserve and enhance this last remaining one-mile stretch of authentic Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois.

In 2013, the area was designated as an Illinois Nature Preserve by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, protecting it in perpetuity. In addition to the recreational paths, overlooks, beach area, outdoor artworks and rich plant and wildlife, the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is now one of 96 registered StarParks worldwide – identifying it as a place where the public can enjoy the starry night sky surrounded by other gifts of nature.


Size: 77-acre parcel including a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline

Program: Preservation and restoration of bluff and ravines with a plan for recreational and interpretive opportunities

Completion: Feasibility study and plan - 2005; Implementation and stewardship - ongoing

Project Team: Conservation Design Forum, Openlands, Conservation Land Stewardship







Tags: Lake Michigan bluffs shoreline, Bartlett Ravine, Highland Park moraine, Van Horne Ravine, Schenk Ravine, Illinois Endangered and Threatened Species, ecological quality, stormwater discharge, runoff, infiltration, native vegetation, naturalized buf

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