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Editorial: Let the tents into Cook County forest preserves

Arnold Randall general superintendent Forest Preserve District Cook County Arnold Randall visits shuttered Camp Reinberg Palatine Friday. | Richard A.

Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Arnold Randall, visitsthe shuttered Camp Reinberg in Palatine on Friday. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 11, 2012 8:07AM

A camping expedition offers a break from the rush of urban life. It can give us a chance to clear our minds and look at life in a new way.

We suspect Cook County officials might have been on such an outdoors trip recently because they certainly have come up with a fresh and sensible idea: allowing people to rough it overnight in the forest preserves.

A ban dating back to 1929 has kept tents out of the Cook County preserves, even as some adjoining collar counties welcomed campers.

Now, Forest Preserve Supt. Arnold Randall wants to give people a chance to unroll their sleeping bags without the fuel costs of driving to campsites far from the city or even in other states.

To do this right, authorities must ensure the camping areas are not overrun by people more interested in all-night partying than in sleeping under the stars. Reliable security is important because families with young children must feel safe. Locations chosen for camping should be remote from the busiest parts of the city, not adjacent to heavily used highways or directly under O’Hare Airport’s flight paths.

There’s no reason those goals can’t be met, even in and around a big city. DuPage Forest Preserve Commissioner Roger Kotecki says camping in DuPage’s Blackwell Forest Preserve has been popular and safe, partly because alcohol is banned and because gates to the camping area are closed an hour after dark to prevent people from coming and going all night.

For some people, camping might be their introduction to the forest preserve’s extensive woodlands and natural vistas, which too often are overlooked even though — or perhaps because — they are right at our very doors. It also might give many children their first taste of an overnight outdoors. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and other books, says kids don’t get enough time in the woods. Natural surroundings, he says, sharpen kids’ senses, lower obesity rates and even ease attention-deficit disorders.

We’ve got our bug spray ready and our ingredients for s’mores. Let the camping begin.

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