Big changes coming to Lakewood Forest Preserve, thanks in part to $600,000 state grant

Work could begin this summer at Wauconda preserve, Lake County’s largest

LIBERTYVILLE – A recently awarded $600,000 state grant will help fund a revamping of Lakewood Forest Preserve.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District aims to start work this summer at the preserve, the county’s largest spanning 2,835 acres near the intersection of Route 176 and Fairfield Road east of Wauconda.

In all, an estimated $6 million in improvements are planned, including new shelters, an overhaul of the trail network, shoreline improvements, scenic overlooks, a nature-based play area and updated parking areas.

“The preserve has been in existence since the ‘60s. The way it was developed several decades ago doesn’t support today’s needs,” said Rebekah Snyder, director of community engagement and partnerships for the Lake County Forest Preserves. “We have a lot we want to do out there.”

The most recent state grant is the second earned by the district through an Open Space Land Acquisition and Development program administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The district’s project was among 118 park projects throughout Illinois awarded almost $60 million in OSLAD grants.

The grants represent the largest round of OSLAD grants in the 36-year history of the program, which is designed to help communities fund land acquisition and development for parks and outdoor recreation projects, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District previously earned a $400,000 OSLAD grant in 2020. The OSLAD grants will fund $1 million of the Lakewood Forest Preserve project, which was approved in 2020 by the district’s board of commissioners as part of a master plan.

“It’s huge,” Snyder said of the district earning two grants. “For our agency and all the agencies that get these OSLAD grants, it’s really valuable to parks and recreation.”

Engineering work for the project was completed in 2021, Snyder said, and the district has gone out for bid on the first phase, which includes work north of Ivanhoe Road.

The hope is to begin construction and renovation this summer, she said, but the district is dependent upon fluctuating material costs, supply chain issues and labor shortages. With work estimated to take at least 18 months, the earliest visitors would start seeing improvements would be the fall of 2024, she said.

Along with a three-season shelter near Taylor Lake, a big piece of the project includes the addition of trails, including an accessible, up to 3-mile asphalt trail loop around the forest preserve.

“That’s really important to us because when we have an asphalt trail, especially if it’s a loop, we can plow it in the winter,” Snyder said. “People can brave the ice and the cold and it’s a little safer and pleasant. … That just means we can offer year-round recreation to those who want to get out in January and February.”

Gravel and natural surface trails will be added for hiking, biking and snowmobiling.

A second phase of the project, not yet funded, would include improvements south of Ivanhoe Road, Snyder said. Among those plans are equestrian and hiking trails, as well as habitat restoration of the natural woodlands, wetlands and prairies in the area.

“People recreate differently than they used to. … We’re aiming to make it the most efficient and reflect the use of our visitors today,” Snyder said.