When architect Howard Van Doren Shaw revealed Market Square in Lake Forest in 1916, it became a model for “shopping centers” throughout America. More than five decades later, citizens came together to establish another Lake Forest institution that sets the standard across the nation.
Since 1967, Lake Forest Open Lands Association has drawn attention for the tireless work of its volunteers and advocates to preserve and protect the lands that surround our homes, our workplaces, and even the frontage to our roads and thoroughfares.
“I always tell folks that we’re in the forever business,” says LFOLA President and CEO John Sentell. “The land we’re caring for, what we do today is really our gift and our legacy to future generations.”
An independently funded conservation and educational organization, LFOLA has acquired, preserved, restored, and maintained more than 800 acres over the last 50 years—a private land trust that includes 12 miles of walking trails encompassing native landscapes, prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands for the benefit and enjoyment of all.
But that’s just the beginning. With two new nature preserves about to join the LFOLA land trust, there will be even more natural landscapes to explore and even more ways to connect from one to the other.
“What’s incredibly rewarding right now is that there are nature preserves in every part of our community for people to enjoy,” says Sentell, who grew up in northeast Ohio and has devoted his life and career to environmental and land issues, serving as executive director and CEO of The Wetlands Initiative prior to joining LFOLA in 2010. “I started as a volunteer at Lake Forest Open Lands almost 20 years ago, served on the associate board, and served as a director on the board of governors. It is a great privilege to serve as president … where we are today builds upon the future.”
The LFOLA portfolio of six public nature preserves will soon expand to include two additional properties—the 61-acre Jean and John Greene Nature Preserve at McCormick Ravine and a 17-acre Nature Preserve on Westleigh Road.
With an investment of $3.5 million to restore the lakeshore ravines and old-growth woodland, the McCormick project is an iconic model of what LFOLA can achieve. The organization is now poised for additional investment with the installation of trails, bridges, and a new gateway entrance for residents to experience its wonder.
Meanwhile, the Westleigh Road property will be transformed from a forgotten estate parcel into public preserve that showcases an old growth hickory woodland, a relic prairie, restored wetlands, and ponds. Once opened, the Westleigh Road preserve will connect to Lake Forest Open Lands’ West Skokie Nature Preserve and enhance a key conduit of their western Greenway Initiative, a long-term vision to connect central Lake Forest to the Middlefork and beyond.
“These landscapes saved by Lake Forest Open Lands are not just beautiful, but recognized as some of the rarest within our state,” explains Sentell. “It’s almost as if we live in a small natural park. If you walk into a nature preserve now, it’s amazing how many species you can see.”
He estimates about 271 bird species alone, including bald eagles, bobolinks, and other rare specimens. Equally rare are the types of plant species, some that simply don’t grow anywhere else in Lake County.
“While the lands we protect are important, so much of our work is below the radar screen. We help protect the identity of Lake Forest,” says
Sentell. “Not only are we helping preserve the natural value of our property but we protect our streetscapes. The birds and the butterflies and the trees, they don’t care who owns it. They will go where the habitat is.”
Sentell is most excited about the likelihood that very soon, all the LFOLA preserves and holdings will be connected by greenways and trails.
“Someday we’ll be able to hike a trail from Deerpath Road to north of Route 176,” he says. “You’ll also be able to hike a trail south of Westleigh Road to the Middlefork Preserve and beyond. This is another demonstration of connecting our people and our community to nature. The long-term vision is clearly within our sights, and it’s very exciting.”
The long-term vision for LFOLA, he continues, is not just about preserving the lands; it’s about connecting people to nature.
“One of the most gratifying results of a conservation community is not just protecting our natural heritage, but improving the quality of the life where we live and connecting our families together,” Sentell adds. “People of all ages benefit from nature. What we’re learning today is that nature is not only good for the birds and the bees, but for the soul.”
As the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, Bagpipes & Bonfire, nears, he says it’s vital to continue to spread the word about LFOLA to the next generation.
“I would define Bagpipes & Bonfire as a celebration of our community’s historical connection to the landscapes that define us,” he says. “It’s one of our community’s great traditions, and really a symbolic way to welcome autumn.”
Bagpipes and Bonfire 2018
It’s a rite of passage. It’s a Lake Forest tradition for the ages. And on Sunday, September 30, Lake Forest Opens Lands Association’s (LFOLA) biggest fundraiser of the year—Bagpipes & Bonfire—will once again wow audiences with a multi-generational family celebration to remember.
LFOLA Life Directors Martha and Howard Simpson will chair this year’s beloved fall event, which attracts more than 1,700 attendees for a one-of-a-kind experience. The afternoon includes an open bar, dinner, dessert, Scottish bagpipes, pony rides, Highland dancers, fly casting, Highland Athletes competition, a sheep herding demonstration, a pipe bands march, sky divers in kilts, and a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace” at dusk followed by the ceremonial lighting of the bonfire.
“We are honored to be this year’s chairs,” says Martha Simpson. “Bagpipes & Bonfire is such a popular event as it brings people together of all ages and reflects the collective spirt of the thousands of Lake Forest Open Lands Association members and supporters.”
Howard Simpson encourages everyone to walk out to any preserve any day of the year at LFOLA and take a moment to quietly observe for five minutes. “What looks like a quiet moment quickly transforms into action as birds fly by, tiny buds burst with flowers, and large oak trees sway in the breeze. It becomes a spiritual moment,” he says, adding: “People willingly associate with Lake Forest Open Lands on many levels. From engaging with the land recreationally to actively taking part in a community work day, and for others it is the opportunity to associate with people at events such as Bagpipes & Bonfire.”
The 2018 Bagpipes & Bonfire committee includes Linda Leffingwell, Larry Leffingwell, Anna Haagensen, Jennifer Lueders, and Meghan Murphy.
Proceeds from Bagpipes & Bonfire support Lake Forest Open Lands’ conservation efforts encompassing more than 800 acres and the important environmental education programming offered for children, students, and adults. Northern Trust is the Presenting Lead Sponsor, Mariani Landscape, PCA, and William Blair are the Gold Sponsors. Forest & Bluff magazine is the proud media sponsor.
For more information about Lake Forest Open Lands, please visit LFOLA.org. For questions about Bagpipes & Bonfire or to inquire about tickets and sponsorship opportunities, email [email protected] or call Leslie Davidson at 847-234-3880, extension 17.