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Open space plan identifies areas near Naperville for future protection

A cyclist pulls her child behind her bike DuPage River Trail just north Bailey Road Thursday May 16 2013 Naperville.

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

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Updated: May 19, 2013 3:20PM

Call it thinking outside the meadow.

When planners sat down last year to take a fresh look at the concept of open space in DuPage County, they were prepared to aim their sights beyond sprawling expanses of green grasslands and forests — or perhaps nearer.

Steering committee member Bill Novack, director of transportation, engineering and development for the city of Naperville, said one of the possibilities tossed onto the table in those early discussions was the relatively tiny parcel southeast of Washington Street and the West Branch of the DuPage River where a dilapidated and long-vacant commercial building was razed earlier this year.

“They said, ‘Here’s an example that creates something a little different,’” Novack said. “It was interesting how they looked at things and said, ‘This is a place where possibly there could be another kind of use.’”

Partly because the eastern portion of DuPage lacks large pieces of undeveloped land, that approach is what was called for in the first comprehensive update to the county’s open space plan in more than 30 years. Committee members took a look at a variety of landscapes, including vacant lots and buildings, and sites that show potential for redevelopment or conversion into parks.

“Our mission is preserving land, and we’ve never abandoned DuPage County — although we’ve been told that there was no land left in DuPage County,” said Brook McDonald, president and CEO of the Naperville-based Conservation Foundation, which spearheaded the collaborative undertaking involving county municipalities, park districts and the Forest Preserve District. “We know that’s wrong.”

A new map released with the updated plan shows areas considered promising for the completion of trail networks and connections between existing public lands, including all of the area around the DuPage River from the Will County line north to the Fawell Dam on Naperville’s north side. A broad swath of open land southwest of 75th Street and Route 59 also is highlighted on the map.

McDonald was a bit apprehensive when plans began for the plan update. He didn’t foresee the committee’s willingness to look at the matter from a new perspective.

“We were concerned that people would say, ‘Oh there’s just this little piece here and there,’ or ‘We don’t need to do this,’” he said. “But it was just the opposite.”

In all, the group identified nearly 6,000 acres they saw with potential for future open space. Of that, about 1,200 acres were prioritized as “missing link” properties that could have particular value for completing greenways and trail systems. The plan, essentially a blueprint for future action if those lands can be made available, provides a vision for both county-run forest preserves and local community and neighborhood parks.

“Basically it’s more of a road map of what are the opportunities and how can we make use of them,” Novack said.

Greenway connections can benefit both humans and animals.

“We’re talking about linkages for trails, for wildlife corridors,” McDonald said.

The DuPage River, he said, flows past many of the missing links. The land around rivers and streams is especially critical because it can play an important role in enhancing water quality and the drainage of storm water.

When the area sustained severe flooding last month, land around where the DuPage River runs near the Conservation Foundation’s headquarters on the McDonald Farm took on plenty of storm water.

“Right across the street from the farm, Knoch Knolls Park was under water,” McDonald said. “But you know, it was doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing.”

The foundation will continue to press ahead on the plan’s findings, helping connect land owners with government agencies interested in buying their properties. Until recent years, park districts had been receiving significant amounts of their land through mandated developer donations. As a result, officials from those agencies are often unfamiliar with the process of negotiating and acquiring properties.

“Now they have to go ahead and buy land,” McDonald said.

His organization also will work to keep the conversation going among the agencies that helped resculpt the open space plan.

“The consensus is they all want us, the Conservation Foundation, to take the lead on this,” he said. “We’re good at bringing people to the table and getting things moving ahead. We’ve been doing this for 40 years.”

It’s been nearly that long since the document was drawn up that was just redone, but the two versions are strikingly similar. The county has remained largely faithful, McDonald said, to the vision that had its roots in the 1970s.

“It’s shocking how well they’ve followed it,” he said. “With all the political biting and land grabbing going on between this town and that town, it is amazing how the county and the Forest Preserve District, and all the municipalities and park districts, worked together on this.”

A copy of the plan can be found at

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