In the world of land restoration, success is ultimately measured over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. But when we think of the history of organizations who steward these restored lands, just ten years can be a lifetime. In fact, the majority of land trusts were formed over the last decade as issues of over-development, urban sprawl, and rising land prices demanded local solutions.
Lake Forest Open Lands Association celebrated our fifty-fifth anniversary in 2022. Today we are most grateful for the foresight of our founders. In 1967 that original group ambitiously sought to create one protected nature preserve for Lake Forest residents. Today, with over 900 acres under management, 8 nature preserves, and the vision of 2 more in the near future and a vibrant environmental education program, we have far surpassed the original intentions. And there is work still to be done. As we always say, Lake Forest Open Lands is in the forever business.
Below is a timeline of milestones:
The Open Prairie Society, Lake Forest Open Lands’ legacy society is launched. The Open Prairie Society honors and recognizes individuals who have included Lake Forest Open Lands in their estate plans.
Initiated the Center for Conservation Leadership program which nurtures and engages high school students from diverse backgrounds with a keen interest in the environment and a passion for the outdoors.
Lake Forest Open Lands becomes the first Illinois land trust to receive accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a nationally recognized mark of distinction in land conservation.
Lake Forest Open Lands purchased the 22-acre Dickinson property on Westleigh Road, contiguous to the West Skokie River Nature Preserve.
Over 1,400 families and area residents support Lake Forest Open Lands.
The Lockhart Family Nature Center at Mellody Farm Nature Preserve, now home to our Conservation Campus, opens in the restored Odgen Armour gatehouse (See details history below).
Lake Forest Open Lands issues $10 million in tax-exempt public bonds to fund restoration of four nature preserves. Lake Forest Open Lands is the first land trust to use this financing tool.
Through a complex partnership with Lake County Forest Preserve District and the City of Lake Forest, Lake Forest Open Lands purchases and preserves ELAWA Farm and begins breaking ground establishing our Middlefork Farm Nature Preserve.
The 37-acre Everett Farm Nature Preserve is created from the James property, representing Lake Forest Open Lands' second conservation development project.
The 22-acre Derwen Mawr farm property is added to the Skokie River Nature Preserve.
50 acres are preserved from the Childs/J. Ogden Armour estate to create the Mellody Farm Nature Preserve.
Lake Forest Open Lands hosts the first annual Bagpipes and Bonfire.
Lake Forest Open Lands purchases the McIlvaine estate which becomes the 26-acre West Skokie River Nature Preserve and represents the first conservation development in Illinois.
Theodore Thornton grants the first conservation easement to Lake Forest Open Lands.
Lake Forest Open Lands undertakes its first major land restoration project with the renovation of Haffner Meadow at Skokie River Nature Preserve.
Stephen Christy is hired as first Executive Director and first full-time employee.
Partnership begins with Lake Forest and Lake Bluff Public schools to provide outdoor environmental education.
John "Archie" Stevenson makes a gift of land now known as Stevenson Savanna and includes Lake Forest Open Lands in his estate plan, thus officially becoming our first Open Prairie Sociatey member.
Lake Forest Open Lands purchases first property now known as McLaughlin Meadow to begin the Skokie River Preserve. In 2009, the preserve is over 140 acres.
Lake Forest Open Lands Association is founded.
The Nature Center, located at 350 North Waukegan Road in Lake Forest is the hub of Lake Forest Open Lands' Conservation Campus.
The building was restored in 2000 and opened as the first nature center in Lake Forest. Originally the gatehouse of J. Ogden Armour's Mellody Farm estate - a lavish 1,000 acre estate took four years and $10 million to construct in 1909 - the Italian Renaissance-style gatehouse (and estate home, now Lake Forest Academy) was designed by architect Arthur Huen. Prior to working almost exclusively in the revivalist styles, Huen spent several years in the Prairie School alongside Frank Lloyd Wright and Dwight Perkins. Ogden Armour also retained two of the brightest and best-known landscape architects of the time, Ossian Simmonds and Jens Jensen to cerate the landscaped entrance to the estate. Their design included both formal gardens and more naturalized elements such as the Jens Jensen pond. Remnants of Jensen's design including the pond's teardrop shape, the eastern red cedar trees and the stone retaining wall are still evident today at Mellody Farm Nature Preserve. In 1998, Lake Forest Open Lands carefully restored the Jensen pond, preserving both the important cultural and ecological characteristics of this wetland. In 1999, the Steiner family donated a Jens Jensen council ring from their home on Green Bay Road. The council ring now overlooks our Jens Jensen pond and is used for educational programs.
Ogden Armour was the son of the meatpacking magnate Philip Danforth Armour. After his father's death at the turn of the century, Ogden inherited the family business and soon amassed one of the greatest fortunes in America. In the mid-1920s, after an unsuccessful attempt to corner the wheat market, the Armours fell into bankruptcy and lost nearly everything including the Mellody Farm Estate. In 1947 Lake Forest Academy purchased the estate house, which now serves as its central building. The gatehouse and surrounding land remained in private ownership until Lake Forest Open Lands purchased the 50-acre property in 1994 with the intention of renovating the gatehouse into a community environmental learning center and restoring the lands as a nature preserve.
The beautiful and historic Middlefork valley landscape that first attracted the Armour Family nearly one hundred years ago is still largely intact in the 50-acre Mellody Farm Nature Preserve and the adjacent Lake County Forest Preserve District Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve.