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Editorial: Forest preserves building paths to inner city

General Superintendent Forest Preserve District Cook County Arnold Randall visits shuttered Camp Reinberg Palatine Friday April 6 2012 followed by

General Superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County Arnold Randall visits shuttered Camp Reinberg in Palatine on Friday, April 6, 2012, followed by servicemen Bob Gallagher and Joel Anderson at right. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:26AM

As the place that invented the forest preserve, you’d think Cook County would have been ashamed in recent years to let neighboring counties do a better job of maintaining their open spaces.

But that gap looks like it is going to close. The forest preserve’s new five-year master plan is well thought out and will go a long way toward revitalizing the district’s 68,000 acres of open space.

A key part of it is a camping master plan the forest preserve board accepted on Tuesday. It calls for camping at nine preserves around the county, which will give families and groups a chance to overnight in the woods close to home.

More than 40 million visitors use the forest preserves every year. But people in some city neighborhoods hardly ever set foot there. The camping plan is designed in part to introduce young people from those neighborhoods to the wonders of nature in the nation’s largest forest preserve system.

The district also is planning to spend just over $27.5 million on land acquisition, improve its network of trails, and catch up on the deferred maintenance of crumbling picnic shelters, canoe launches and other facilities. The money will come from $110 million in general obligation bonds the district issued last June for capital projects.

We were glad to see that an inappropriate proposal for a facility suitable for weddings, conferences and corporate retreats was stripped out of the final camping plan. Because projects funded by the new bonds must be designed and built by June 2015, such overbuilding may be a temptation.

As the district moves forward, it would be wise to approve only those projects that are in keeping with the preservation of natural areas.

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