What will the Will County forest district do with the $50M bonds?

Forest board votes Thursday on spending proposal

An information sign sits at the start of a trail at the Forest Preserve District of Will County Rock Run Preserve on Thursday June 6, 2024 in Joliet.

The $50 million bond plan that awaits approval this week is the latest in a series of funding initiatives that has expanded the Forest Preserve District of Will County to the 23,000 acres it holds today.

The district plans to add as many as 1,250 acres with the proposed bond initiative along with converting 3,500 acres of farm land it now holds into preserves, while it extends existing trails and expands parking lots to accommodate increased use at preserves.

Forest Preserve commissioners at a public hearing Thursday pointed to the popularity of the preserves as they voiced support for the bond plan despite the cost to taxpayers, which is estimated at $9 a year for the owner of a $300,000 home by forest preserve district officials.

Commissioner Julie Berkowicz, R-Naperville, said her own estimate of the cost of bond referendum put it at $15 a year but noted the public use of forest preserves.

Will County board member Julie Berkowicz speaks at the Will County board meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023 in Joliet.

“Fifteen dollars is well worth what I see in my forest preserves and parks every day,” Berkowicz said. “People are using them.”.

Taxpayers, according to officials, actually would pay less property taxes next year to the Forest Preserve despite the cost of the bond referendum because the district by the end of 2024 will finish paying for past bonds.

Starting in 1990, the Forest Preserve District has issued seven bonds to finance expansion with the latest being in 2019. The Forest Preserve District has issued new bonds as the past bonds were paid off, financing a new round of expansion as new bonds were issued.

According to Forest Preserve officials, the owner of a $300,000 house paid $116 in property taxes this year and will pay $95 next year with the bond plan. Without the bonds being issued, that homeowner will pay $86.

The Forest Preserve District of Will County will host a public ribbon cutting for the  new 3.5-mile section of the Veterans Memorial Trail trail at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, at the 167th Street pedestrian tunnel in Lockport.

Here’s some of what the district says the proposed $50 million bond plan will finance:

• Acquisition of 1,000 to 1,250 acres of land, mostly farm land located next to existing forest preserves.

• Restoration of 3,500 acres previously acquired and still being farmed to its pre-agricultural state of prairie or savanna land.

• Continuation of the Veterans Memorial Trail, which runs along Interstate 355, to complete a path from New Lenox to Lemont.

• Construction of an exiting trail and habitat restoration in the Jackson Creek Greenway in Jackson Township, an area that runs from Elwood to Joliet.

• Completing connections in the Wolf’s Crossing Road Trail that would connect Plainfield, Naperville and Aurora.

• Completing connections on the DuPage River Trail that runs from Bolingbrook to Naperville.