What is the Preserve About?

Is it a park? Is it a Nature Preserve? It’s both!

In June 2022, the Park District of Highland Park officially opened The Preserve of Highland Park, a major $1.7 million nature-based project to convert an often-flooded 100+ acre golf course into an adaptable community park that preserves the landscape’s inherent power as an environmental asset.

Creating New
Outdoor Experiences

Importantly, The Preserve meets the community’s desire for accessible walking trails and outdoor nature experiences. It also opens the door to outside activities with our neighbors at the Recreation Center of Highland Park, Highland Park Golf Learning Center/River’s Edge Adventure Golf and The Highland Park Senior Center.

Based on community input, project planners created features such as a sand play area, turtle climbing mounds, green lawns, nature-based play areas, walking and biking trails, and other creative ways for people to play in nature.

Educational components include interpretive signage and ongoing public programming by the District’s Recreation and Heller Nature Center staff so visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and experiences of nature and outdoor play while learning about important conservation efforts.

Nurturing Nature

In addition, The Preserve enhances habitat for many native species, including:

  • Turtles – creating a turtle meadow that transformed existing sand traps into the sunny/sandy environment that turtles seek for nesting
  • Birds – through restoration of woodlands, savanna, and wet prairie
  • Pollinators – via the inclusion soil berms, hollow-stem plantings, and flowering fruit trees.

Working with Water

The project takes advantage of manmade and natural features to help with local flood relief – including adding capacity for flood storage, converting approximately 50 acres of turf grass into native plantings that absorb and cleanse stormwater, and restoring more than 2,500 linear feet of pond shoreline providing large-scale water quality benefits in the Skokie River watershed. It is estimated that the Preserve’s wetland plantings help retain approximately 700,000 gallons of stormwater on site (annually).

Recognizing potential future flood storage needs, the District worked with the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission and the City of Highland Park to develop an alternate flood storage plan that would enhance the natural habitat and enjoyment of the site. Should these plans move forward, the District would work in partnership with these agencies to preserve the essence of the existing natural areas, public spaces and trails.

History of The Preserve

The conversion of the former golf course on the Highland Park Country Club (HPCC) property began in Fall 2018 with the acquisition of the land from the City of Highland Park.

Already a protected open space, the 100-acre parcel featured promising woodland, wetland and riverfront habitat areas, as well as interesting golf-related topography and features such as sand traps, meandering cart paths and river crossings. It was a rare opportunity for the community to have such a large open space available for passive recreation. It also met a need for residents to have access to additional walking and biking trails identified in a Park District Community Attitude and Interest Survey from 2009 and 2013. 

A citizen advisory committee formed in fall 2018 to brainstorm a master plan that could bring these elements together. In June 2019, following a community survey, public open houses and numerous committee meetings, the group presented its final plan that prioritized the natural environment and provided nature-based play opportunities and places to relax and explore in the outdoors, close to home. The resulting master plan was approved by elected officials of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, City of Highland Park and Park District board of commissioners in April 2020.  

Meantime, starting in fall 2018, nearly 50 acres were seeded with native plants in planting zones that reflect the underlying soils and water conditions. Enhanced planting areas of live plants, especially in wetland and shoreline areas, provide structure and a sense of stewardship.

With funding from the IDNR’s OSLAD program approved in August 2020, the project moved into construction phase. On September 22, 2020, the Park Board approved Team REIL’s construction bid for $1,204,290 to complete amenities and trail work. Also included, was restoration of the shoreline of the North Pond, a project funded through IEPA 319 grant with the assistance of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission