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About 100 neighbors of a seven-acre piece of forest in the middle of northwest Evanston turned out Tuesday night for a meeting to express their concerns over plans to double the width of one of the paths through the woods and to pave it with concrete.

Billed as a public forum, the meeting was called by County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who also serves as a commissioner of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, to quash what he called “misconceptions” about the plans for refurbishing the Dwight H. Perkins Woods, the smallest active portion of the sprawling Forest Preserve System.

Perkins Woods occupies a block bounded by Colfax Street on the north, Grant Street on the south, Ewing Avenue on the west, and the Lincolnwood School property that begins at Bennett Avenue on the east.

When the Cook County Forest Preserve System was conceived in 1914, one of its prime movers was the late Dwight H. Perkins, a noted architect who lived on Lincoln Street, a block to the north.  The land was purchased and named in his honor.

Like all of the Forest Preserve system, the woods were designed to preserve the land as it existed before the area was populated with houses. Inside that square block are native plants, including about 100 ash trees, some 48 of which have been attacked by the emerald ash borer that has afflicted the North Shore in recent years.

These trees have been tagged for removal.

Crisscrossing the woods are five-foot-wide paths that intersect in the middle. The paths enable people to walk through this oasis of serenity in this urban environment, and many of the neighbors who turned out for the meeting were eager to keep it unmolested by the modern world.

But Suffredin, who lives just a few blocks from the woods, said that a 10-foot-wide path is necessary for maintenance vehicles to access the park and clear out the diseased trees and for continued maintenance after that.

The paths have been in “terrible shape” for a number of years, he said, “and we finally have the resources to do something about it.”

Other problems have surfaced as well, he said, including the dumping of waste by contractors and landscapers, and evidence that people have been camping and partying in the woods.

The current paths, he said, are flanked by ruts carved out by the trucks. An official of the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District who was in attendance at the meeting said that the ruts hold rainwater that breeds mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus.

The district considered a permeable surface, Suffredin said, but ruled it out as impractical in a wetland. An asphalt surface was also deemed unsatisfactory because it leeches harmful chemicals into the ground.

So they settled on concrete, he said, as the alternative with the least undesirable characteristics. He said it would be colored so as to blend into the forest aesthetically.

Concerned citiens raise questions about the aesthetics of proposed changes.

But many of the vocal citizens in the audience were not buying that. Concrete crumbles, they said, and would be difficult to maintain. And never mind the ruts, some audience members said.

“I do not want to see a highway going through a beautiful forest,” one attendee complained.

Sue Roberts, an avid bird-watcher, said there have been more than 102 species of birds spotted in the woods, many of them migrants that drop down to earth for a rest after flying over miles of open farmland on the way to their winter and summer homes.

Other wildlife spotted in the woods includes deer, raccoons, coyotes, and foxes.

Flanked by specialists from the Forest Preserve District, Suffredin and his colleagues parried each complaint, including a series of questions from an absentee neighbor, Libby Hill, that were presented by Roberts.

A citizen, who identified himself as a landscape architect, recommended that the district consider crushed gravel paths topped by mats. He insisted that culverts planned to be constructed beneath the concrete path for drainage purposes would quickly be rendered useless by an accumulation of debris and nesting wildlife.

Suffredin said he called the meeting to hear concerns and statements from the public about the district’s plans, but said “there is nothing I have heard tonight that would convince me to vote against it” when the commissioners meet Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Chicago Botanic Garden to give the project a final okay.

“I want to be able to show this off to people across the country as a way to manage forests in an urban setting,” he declared.

Top: Suffredin moderates contentious forum in Lincolnwood School auditorium, with technical support from Forest Preserve specialists.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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18 Comments

  1. Perkins Woods

    This sounds like nothing more than a plan to make it easy for trucks to get into the woods. So what's going to keep kids from driving through there in the middle of the night? Perkins is an oasis, a gem in the middle of endless lawns and pavement – we don't need more pavement, Larry!  I like the idea of the gravel paths with matts – water permeable, easy to maintain.  I love Perkins Wood, and the last thing it needs is a road running through it! It's too small for a road, less than a square city block. The County wants to be able to drive in and do maintenance more easily, understandable, but what part of this charming nature sanctuary will have to be paved over to make it easy for trucks? It's like putting an interstate through there – all because you're worried about ruts? The place is a swamp in the spring, of course there are mosquitos – the migrating birds come and eat the bugs as they're passing through.  It's a forest preserve, not a park!! It's tiny!  Mr. Perkins would be appalled.

  2. Neighbors protest ‘highway’ through Perkins Woods

    I attended this public forum and found it to be a farce.  Bids to do the work had already gone out several weeks earlier.  Not one person in the audience was in favor of the 10-foot-wide concrete path that will bisect the forest preserve, yet Suffredin said “there is nothing I have heard tonight that would convince me to vote against it” when the commissioners meet . . . to give the project a final okay.  Perhaps he wasn't listening.

    A true politician, Mr. Suffredin refused to describe the proposed concrete path as 10-feet-wide, saying he prefers to call it, "the original 5 foot path plus 2 1/2 feet on either side".

  3. Forest Preserve

    Please hear my intended sarcasm when I say, "It's nice to see our elected officials recognize they work for us."   Neighbors turn out in large numbers to speak against something in their own 'backyard,' and Larry Suffredin, who apparently considers this one of his personal pet projects, absolutely refuses to entertain anything other than his own vision.  It is my guess that these guys are forgetting how important the Evanston vote is since DPOE turns everyone out in large numbers to vote for them.  Newsflash, Larry, North Evanston packs a lot of punch – anyone who lives in their giant shadow down in South Evanston knows this.  

  4. Where’s the vision?

    What the article doesn't point out is the fact that, when asked directly if anyone was in favor of Commissioner Suffredin's plan to put a 10' "path" through the forest preserve, not one hand was raised in support. Although several viable alternatives to this concrete path were proposed by attendees, the commissioner wasn't interested in investigating any of those alternatives. This is Cook County government at its worst, demonstrating a complete lack of vision and a total disregard for the community. Commissioner Suffredin should be ashamed of himself.

  5. Everyone at the public forum opposed a concrete path

    I attended the meeting and was surprised at what I was hearing from Larry Suffredin. It was clear that people did not want a 10 foot wide concrete path snaking through the forest preserve. Suffredin said no decision had been made and that he was there to get input. So I stood up and asked for a raise of hands if anyone supported a concrete path. Out of about 100 people, no one raised their hands.

    Suffredin got his input but then said to my shock and surprise that other meetings held where people were okay with the concrete pathway. I appreciate that the Forest Preserve District and Larry Suffredin are finally addressing the problems in the forest preserve but why have a public forum if you've already made your decision? People were complaining that Suffredin wasn't listening and I have to agree.

    I have hiked and biked along swampy areas and wetlands and most of the paths were gravel. A gravel path in the Perkins Woods would not only be acceptable to residents but probably less expensive. There was no mention how much this project would cost.

    There are also security concerns at or near the forest preserve. I was talking to one of the Lincolnwood PTA presidents yesterday who told my wife and I that a playground slide near the woods was burned so the slide was removed and plywood was placed at the top of the slide to prevent kids from falling off. She said there has been a large amount of graffitti painted all over the playground and drug dealers are going to the playground and forest preserve to sell drugs.   

    I think there is a petition going around to oppose the concrete pathway. I hope Larry Suffredin has a change of heart and would at least seriously consider an alternative such as a gravel pathway.

    The Perkinws Woods has survived 100 years without concrete and I think it can survive another 100 years without it. Let's celebrate the 100th anniversary unified not divided.

  6. The Larry Suffredin Path

    I suggest the new 10-foot-wide concrete path be named the "Larry Suffredin Path" with appropriate signage so that everytime one walks through the forest preserve we will be reminded of who is responsible for putting it there. 

    1. Nice Idea

      I agree. What a great idea. He should have something named after him. Whoever gets the work should be investigated to see what political connections exist. Someone will need to make money out of this.

      You would think that a narrow John Deere tractor would fit nicely on the existing path and would be more appropriate for this case. It would certainly be a cheaper solution.

  7. How does it work in Harms Woods?

    I don't understand how tiny Perkins Woods must be modified to allow access to maintenance vehicles when there is a far greater expanse of woods in Harms Woods and the rest of the FPD that are maintained without any 10 foot wide access for vehicles at distances much greater than the whole length of PW.

    Perkins Woods is microscopic. At the center you are just deep enough in that you don't see homes. When I was a pre-teen it was the only place around where a buddy and I felt hidden enough to look through our first Playboy magazine unobserved.

    Gravel paths sound great.

  8. Perkins Woods

    The 9-4-12 meeting revealed a unanimously negative response to the car-width concrete path planned for 7 acre Perkins Woods.

    Among the neighbors were professionals schooled in architectural design, construction and maintenance who highlighted:

    • It is unlikely that a concrete path could be properly installed, not to mention maintained, given the nature of the soil;
    • The grading and impermeability of such a path would exacerbate drainage issues, and the culvert system proposed would soon be rendered ineffective due to silt accumulation and nesting habits of the wildlife;
    • Alternative path construction materials (mulch and/or gravel) would :
    • —-support the normal flow of water on the property
    • —-allow a construction process that would reduce the impact on areas adjacent to the path
    • —-be more in balance with the small scale of the area.
    • Maintenance, when necessary, can be accomplished with temporary support of heavy equipment

    We also heard at the meeting that Perkins Woods is of disproportionately high ecological importance relative to its size to both local and migrating birds.  In a city already lacking the amount of natural space enjoyed by other comparable communities, moving further to urbanize and so devalue that which we do hold would be moving in the wrong direction.

  9. Consider this…

    Please consider this… As we are easing out of one of the worst droughts in our history… a fire breaks out in the woods… Should we just let them burn? (and maybe burn a few homes in the neighborhood down too) 

    If safety is the issue and 10' wide path is required to ensure it… why is that a problem for anyone?

    Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

    1. Forest Fires at Perkins Woods? Are you kidding?!?!

      Two things to Brian Becharas: First of all a fire starting due to drought in Perkins Woods is very very unlikely.  Lightning is the main natural cause of forest fires and, while it is conceivable that a strike could hit a tree in the woods and start a fire it would be unlikely.

      If you look at the USFS fire maps, you will see that there have been no detectable fires in Evanston all year.

      http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/data/activefiremaps/emw2012250_0300.jpg

      Even if a fire started in the woods it would be a rather simple affair to contain given the current pathways because of the small nature of the plot and the fact that it is surrounded by wide streets.  Furthermore all of the homes surroudning the forest have adequate "defensible space"–this means that they are set far enough back  from the edge of the forest to allow for protection.

      I worked as a firefighter out West and, let me tell you, you would have no problem containing a fire in Perkins Woods. since it would take about 2 minutes to get a truck there and fighting a fire from the perimiter streets would be a relative piece of cake.

      So the fire argument is just silly for expanding the path.

      Secondly, we actually shouldn't be afraid of forest fires.  They are a natural part of ecosystem health and prescribed burns can reduce the risks of devastating fires.  Actually the Forest Preserve District conducts prescribed burns quite often.  If they are managing the urban forest correctly there should be no threat.  And you don't need a wider path to conduct such burns.

      1. Forest Fires at Perkins Woods? Are you kidding?!?!

        Dear Anon…  Brian here…  I am not advocating anything else other than making safety a consideration.  Glad to hear it'd be "piece of cake" to extinguish one if, God forbid, one started.

  10. Perkins Woods

    I am the landscape architect that was quoted in the above article. I want to clarify a couple of points. My greatest objection is to the width of the path that is being proposed from the southwest to the northwest corner of the woods. A 10’ path of any kind will destroy the natural character of this small 7.5 acre wooded lot in several ways.
    – The expansion of the path from 5’ to 10’, will severely impact the root systems of the adjacent trees. Many of these are oak trees which have shallow roots. The 10” deep excavation that is necessary to build the proposed maintenance road will impact this root zone which is critical to their survival.
    – The subsequent loss of adjacent trees will open up the forest canopy, allowing more sunlight in, and creating in effect another woodland edge. Invasive species thrive at these woodland edges. If it is a goal of the Forest Preserve District to enhance the quality of the woodland they need to think about the impact that this path will have upon the ecology of this forest.
    – The current path is hazardous and I appreciate the effort to do something to improve it, but now is the chance to do it right. Ideally we would have a narrow wood chip path through the woods. Yes, it might be a little muddy during wet weather, but that’s also part of the charm of a walk in the woods. Why does a forest have to be so neat and tidy? If a more solid surface is the desire of the community, then a 5’ wide limestone screening path is the next best solution.
    – The negative visual impact of a 10’ wide path through this small wooded lot will be tremendous. Right now you feel a bit of mystery as you enter the woods. This is the ambience that so many people referred to at the meeting. That will be destroyed with the proposed path.
    – I was slightly misquoted in the article above. I’m not proposing that they put mats down over a limestone path. What I was suggesting was an alternative way to periodically get maintenance vehicles into the woods (If they felt it was absolutely necessary to do so – which I don’t believe it is). This would involve putting down construction mats adjacent to the path (only while they do their work). This would alleviate the current rutting problem since you would have one tire on the mat one on the path. 10’ of permanent concrete is overkill.

    The last thing I’d like to bring to light is the mission statement of the Cook County Forest Preserve District. I’ve highlighted a few key phrases that the proposed concrete maintenance road does not meet:
    The mission of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois, is to acquire, restore, and manage lands for the purpose of protecting and preserving public open space with its natural wonders — significant prairies, forests, wetlands, rivers, streams, and other landscapes with all its associated wildlife — in a natural state for the education, pleasure, and recreation of the public, now and in the future.

    Thanks to everyone who is committed to preserving this critical woodland.

  11. Pave Paradise and Put in a Maintenance Road

    While listening to the many thoughtful suggestions last night at the meeting it became quite clear that Larry Suffredin had no intention of gathering "input" from anyone present. His mind was already made up and the meeting was nothing but false posturing.  

    As we walked home I thought about the 10' swath of concrete that may soon cut through this forest, and couldn't help but see it as an 8000 sq ft canvas for graffiti, just begging to be tagged. Also, there will be teenagers who will do whatever it takes to drive their cars down this road.

  12. You would think that a narrow

    You would think that a narrow John Deere tractor would fit nicely on the existing path and would be more appropriate for this case. It would certainly be a cheaper solution.

     

  13. Perkins Woods

    We are talking about replacing a path that already exists in Perkins Woods right?   That is not a bad thing, especially when you look at the condition of the current path.  These folks are trying to do the right thing.  Let's redirect some of this energy to something really important like the economy, health care, intolerance, etc.  Widening an existing path a few feet so service vehicles have better access without creating ruts and damaging plants is perfectly reasonable.  I know there have to be some reasonable people out there who get this.

  14. Perkins Woods

    It strikes me that a concrete path of any size through a wetland would be impracticle due to the existing freeze thaw cycles. Concrete in this setting would stand very little chance in holding together through a cold winter season.

    Seems to me that a gravel path would survive or at least have a better chance than concrete. It would be nice for this process to be used as a model to show how a group of citizens and a terrific Cook County Commissioner can collaborate together to come up with a solution that comes as close as possible to satisfy all issues. Maybe a possible solution would be to enlist citizens to work with forest preserve to create a mutually acceptable solution.

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