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OUTDOORS: This Millennium Park could be big



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Updated: March 5, 2013 11:02PM

The Calumet region is the most bizarre urban wild area, mishmashed with the remnants of an industrial past, I have ever seen.

Yet, that area is primed for innovative solutions.

In terms of conservation, few things illustrate that better than the Millennium Reserve, what Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff call the largest open-space project in the country, encompassing more than 140,000 acres of land. The Calumet region is core to the reserve.

On Friday, Quinn signed an executive order creating a steering committee to oversee the development of the reserve, an initiative started last year, with $6.8 million in investments. John Rogner, who directs landscape conservation activities for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will be chair.

Sometimes deciphering grandiose gatherings is like figuring out how to catch suspended smallmouth bass.

Let me try.

It’s significant the gathering was held inside the unfinished interpretive visitor center on the shores of Wolf Lake at William Powers State Recreation Area. The center has been needed for years. It will officially open this spring, because of a $900,000 investment.

It matters that the joint was packed with business people, government officials, leaders of neighborhood groups, conservation leaders and student props.

I saw Quinn; Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, 10th Ward Alderman John Pope, Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, Rogner and spitfire businesswoman Vicky Linko.

Miller gave the main address and spoke of a “new model’’ and “collaboration.’’

“It’s all about partnerships, it always has been,’’ Rogner said.

He talked about going “beyond open space and incorporating economic development.’’

“Coordinated efforts from engaged partners,’’ is the way Randall put it.

Normally, business people do for me what drift socks do to a boat’s speed. But Linko’s wrap-up talk had me ready to shout, “Hallelujah, I believe.’’

What she, along with fellow business people, does will determine whether the initiative ultimately matters.

Without jobs, conservation is a hollow victory for idealists.

Some of the economic/conservation development is already moving. Besides the visitor center, there is the $5.1 million in recreational investments. The key chunk is a 30-mile multi-use Cal-Sag Trail from Lemont to Burnham.

There’s $696,380 in Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grants for job training and invasive species control in the area.

Then there was $600,000 in Federal Coastal Program funding for youth fishing. The mix of state and FLW Outdoors efforts fascinate me. It could be big. Jeffrey Jones, community outreach director for the IDNR, is pulling it together.

“We are marketing it to the schools within the Millennium Reserve,’’ he said by phone Monday. He hopes programs are going by April or May. He said one focus will be to “attract attention and visitors to William Powers, hopefully get some long-time fishermen and canoeists to that area.’’

FLW Outdoors will include much on the career side in science, technology and math, areas where American students in general and minority students in particular lag behind.

“One component, all students who participate will asked to write an essay on their current participation in outdoor programs,’’ Jones said.

Those essays will provide an interesting overview of outdoors usage. The essays will be judged and ranked, with FLW Outdoors providing a top prize of a family trip to Louisiana.

Interested educators may contact Jones at

Miller said in a follow-up Monday, “A lot of work needs to be done. So many special places we need to get in and do the work to protect them.’’

Stray cast

The worry with the Blackhawks is that they will pull an Aaron Martens; in the same vein, LeBron James reminds me of a young Rick Clunn (with different hair).

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