Created by public referendum in 1913, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County is the unit of government responsible for administering the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Forest Preserves are the nations largest conservation area, and they protect an unparalleled metropolitan wilderness: 68,825 acres of forest, prairie, wetlands, streams and lakes, making up more than 11% of the County’s land mass. The Preserves are eight times the size of the nearby Chicago Park District, and 80 times the size of New York’s Central Park.
The idea for the Forest Preserves was born in 1904, when Chicago landscape architect Jens Jensen, architect Dwight Perkins and colleagues laid out their vision for a system of outer parks that would “[p]reserve for present and future generations’ lands of natural scenic beauty.” Though the 1909 Plan of Chicago echoed their recommendations, it took a decade of advocacy to pass the State enabling legislation that created the District in 1913. It was Illinois’ first county-wide unit of government dedicated to land conservation, and one of the first in urban America.
The purpose of the District was stated in this legislation, and remains the same today: to acquire, maintain, and restore lands for the purpose of “protecting and preserving the flora, fauna, and scenic beauties . . . and to restore, restock, protect and preserve the natural forests…as nearly as may be in their natural state…for the purpose of the education, pleasure and recreation of the public.”
The Forest Preserves have grown to their present size over the course of a century, adding new protected areas and building facilities for education and recreation. The Preserves also includes two extensively developed visitor attractions operated through not-for-profit partners: Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden.
The Brookfield Zoo is located in Brookfield, in West Cook County, Illinois. It is operated by the Chicago Zoological Society (a private nonprofit organization) on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The Zoo grounds are located on 216 acres and include outdoor and indoor habitats for a vast array of animals, some of which are critically endangered.
With visitors from all over the world, the Zoo provides a glimpse into the many wonders of familiar and exotic species and is a major player in the global effort to preserve and support our animal kingdom. In 2012, the Zoo attracted 2,339,312 guests and engaged more than 200,000 children from the greater Chicago region in its conservation and education programs. It is the first zoo to achieve Arboretum Accreditation, highlighting for guests the importance of trees for animals and people. The excitement and interest the Zoo offers make it the most-visited cultural attraction in Illinois.
Chicago Botanic Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden is located in Glencoe, in North Cook County, Illinois. The Garden is a public-private partnership located on land owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and is operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society.
The 385-acre Garden features 26 display gardens and four natural areas, uniquely situated on nine islands surrounded by lakes. With its world-renowned plant collections and displays, the Garden is one of the world’s most visited public gardens, with an annual attendance of just under 1,000,000 visitors. It is also a preeminent center for learning and scientific research related to plant life.