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Get those tents ready: Forest preserve camping begins in 2015

Camp Reinberg  is among existing Cook County Forest Preserve District camps thwill will get upgrades like renovations existing buildings

Camp Reinberg is among the existing Cook County Forest Preserve District camps that will will get upgrades, like renovations to existing buildings, and demolition of older cabins.| Sun-Times files

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Updated: April 15, 2014 6:23AM

For the first time in nearly 100 years, camping will be open to the public at five suburban Cook County forest preserves as soon as Memorial Day weekend 2015.

The Cook County Forest Preserve District will soon begin construction on a $26 million camping plan that will create two new camping sites and renovate three sites previously used only for groups such as Boy Scouts and organized church groups.

The five sites include Camp Sullivan in Tinley Park, Camp Reinberg in Palatine, Camp Bullfrog Lake in Willow Springs, Shabonna Woods in South Holland and Camp Dan Beard in Northbrook.

“We are really targeting the people in the larger Chicago area. People who have either traveled to other places to camp, or won’t camp at all because it’s too far for them,” forest preserve Supt. Arnold Randall told the Sun-Times.

Camps Reinberg, Dan Beard and Sullivan will get upgrades such as renovations to existing buildings and demolition of older cabins. Crews will add cabins and tent sites. Camp Bullfrog Lake, the only camping site to allow recreational vehicles, will get 30 drive-in sites, so campers can pitch a tent or bring a camper or RV. And Camp Shabonna will get 10 sites and some seasonal cabins, a new picnic shelter and a building to shower.

Individual and smaller groups will be able to reserve a space online for both tent space and cabins. But larger groups may still need a permit, according to forest preserve district spokeswoman Karen Vaughn.

“We’re focusing [construction] first on the sites that would have winterized housing, at Camp Reinberg and Camp Sullivan,” Chris Slattery, Forest Preserve Director of Planning Development said. Slattery said those sites will be open by late fall or winter.

Construction bids went out this week, and construction will begin this spring: “We’ll have all these sites open by Memorial Day,” Slattery said.

Some issues are still being reviewed. As of now, groups will pay $20 per tent per night, or $50 per cabin per night, Vaughn said. But the county will hire a camp manager to review the pricing to make sure it’s in line with competitors, she said. Alcohol is currently allowed in county forest preserves, but Vaughn said administrators are still formulating policies when it comes to alcohol at the new campsites.

Camping is part of a larger focus for the county, aimed at getting people out into nature: “We talked to a lot of advocacy groups, a lot of people just in the public, and we all agreed that this is a great initiative to really introduce camping in a big way to Chicago,” Randall said.

It’s more of a re-introduction to the Chicago area. Campers in the early 20th century were allowed to go to any Cook County Forest Preserve to camp, and could even build their own cabins. But by 1929, officials outlawed the private cabins amid complaints. All public camping largely stopped soon after.

Benjamin Cox, president of forest preserve watchdog group Friends of the Forest Preserves said his organization was involved in the camping plan, and Cox says he’s pleased with the results.

“I think that the best form of recreation in the forest preserves is and will be camping, especially for families and youth groups,” Cox said.

Cox expects one big problem though: “I think it’s going to get packed. I think when you’re right here in the middle of so many people, these are going to be wildly popular places,” Cox said. “Some of them, you’re really going to have a hard time knowing that you’re this close to Chicago. You’re going to be in the middle of nature and it’s going to be so cool.”

To pay for the new and improved camping sites, as well as fix up trails in the system, the forest preserve issued bonds.

Forest preserve officials expect the camping program to break even.


Twitter: @TinaSfon

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