The Thrill of Preserving the DuPage Forest Preserves for Future Generations

by Scott Meister

When I was finishing graduate school surrounded by the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, I accepted a position with the Forest Preserve District, and my excitement was nearly uncontrollable. I was offered not only a permanent full-time job near family and friends but also a job that would allow me to work for an agency that was a national model for urban open-space preservation.

I shared my excitement with fellow students from Montana, South Carolina, upstate New York and other nonmetropolitan areas, friends who didn’t quite share my excitement about becoming a wildlife biologist in “Chicago.” It was clear they were unfamiliar with this forest preserve system that was so rare within the United States.

They were unfamiliar with the fact that nearly 12 percent of the land in DuPage County was protected open space that provided 25,000 acres of habitat for hundreds of different kinds of wild animals, some federally endangered or threatened. They were unaware that the natural resources within our preserves rivaled those in similar areas across the country. For me, seeing those resources firsthand has continued to validate the excitement I felt when I first accepted that job with the District 13 years ago.

I am grateful for people like Daniel Burnham who had the foresight to know that access to open spaces in urban areas would be critical to quality of life. I am thankful to the voters of a century ago who approved the establishment of a forest preserve district in DuPage County and envisioned urban and suburban communities with abundant natural areas. Little did they know the true joy, health and memories that our forest preserves would bring to so many people and the life-saving resources that would be available to countless plant and animal species.

Someday I will move on from the Forest Preserve District and the county’s natural resources will stay for the next generation. I only hope that as a public servant I have done my “job” to help make the next biologist as excited as I was.
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