THE MISSION OF Lake Forest Open Lands Association (LFOLA) is to acquire, restore, and preserve natural landscapes in our local community to ensure that all people have a connection to, and appreciation of, nature and the open spaces found right where we live.
That mission was enhanced recently with the acquisition of a 102-acre natural landscape, prominently sited on the north side of Half Day Road at Old Mill Road. Originally slated for a 265-unit mixed-use development, it will now be permanently protected, and LFOLA plans to restore the land and create a nature preserve for the public to enjoy.
“The owner of the property felt it was a privilege for the family to care for and enjoy this special place for many years,” said trustee Lori Lousararian of MNR Realty LLC, a previous owner of the property. “Key to the decision to donate the land was Lake Forest Open Lands’ promise not only to preserve the wetlands, meadows, and woodlands, but also to restore the land over time to its natural splendor and share it with everyone.”
LFOLA president and CEO John Sentell says the permanent preservation of the landscape has been a priority for the conservation community for some time. The newly-protected Westfork Savanna—with outstanding habitat and water quality value in its own right—is also bordered to the north by the 109-acre Florsheim Nature Preserve (FNP), owned by the Village of Lincolnshire. With its unique prairie and oak flatwood habitats, FNP holds the distinction as a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve.
“Over the years, we’ve learned that larger, connected ecosystems can successfully support a greater diversity of species richness,” Sentell says. “We believe the greenway connectivity of Westfork Savanna with the nature preserve to the north will be of greater benefit not only to the plants and animals who depend upon it, but to the many residents who appreciate nature.”
Some of the species that will benefit include the Illinois chorus frog, wood duck, monarch butterfly, red-headed woodpecker, blue spotted salamander, smooth green snake, and bobolink, among many others that have been found either on the Westfork Savanna site or nearby.
“Westfork Savanna is one of the largest land preservation projects we’ve had, and in our area a property of this size does not become available often,” Sentell says. “The fact that it’s contiguous to another preserved site of 109 acres makes it even more important.”
Sentell says that many people who visit some of Lake Forest Open Lands’ preserves might be surprised that they’re not just beautiful, but they have some of the rarest, high-quality native landscapes in Illinois.
“Throughout our portfolio of preserved properties, we have many threatened and endangered species, along with over 270 different bird species,” he says. “In some sense, it’s almost as if we live within a small national park. The birds, plants, and animals don’t see the property boundaries that we do. These large scale, preserved properties are a critical anchor for nature that become virtually interconnected with the surrounding landscapes”
Important to restoring and preserving Westfork Savanna—and to all LFOLA’s work—is involving the community in the effort.
“We want to engage people. We want to not only have it be a place where nature can thrive, but where people can thrive as well,” says Sentell. “Our goal is to reach out to the community to help restore Westfork Savanna, and then when ready, to open it up as a public nature preserve so people can enjoy what they helped restore.”
When that happens, LFOLA will be fulfilling the donor’s intent.
“It was the donor’s life-long dream to save an undeveloped piece of nature,” Sentell says. “It is Lake Forest Open Lands’ honor to help fulfill that dream and share it with everyone.”
For more about Lake Forest Open Lands Association, visit lfola.org.