Palos preserves among several where camping will be allowed

Camp Kiwanis to have sites for horse-riders

By Laura Bollin

Camping in the Cook County forest preserves has in recent years been offered only to groups of scouts and students, but the county plans to open camping in some preserves to the general public beginning next year.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County has begun a $22 million project to create and renovate camp grounds in Tinley Park and Willow Springs as well as Northbrook, Palatine, South Holland, River Forest, Glencoe and Winnetka. Two existing campgrounds will be renovated and seven will be developed, said Forest Preserve District director of planning and development Chris Slattery.

"We want to bring families in," Slattery said. "Since the 1920s, in the early days of the forest preserves, there was a big legacy of people camping in the preserves."

The district will fund the project with a portion of $110 million in general obligation bonds issued last year. The renovation project is the second-biggest capital improvement project after land acquisition, which will cost $25 million, Slattery said.

Forest preserve campgrounds have fallen into disrepair in the past 90 years, Slattery said. Only one camp - Camp Sullivan at 147th Street and Oak Park Avenue in Tinley Park - features buildings that are open.

Camp Sullivan is one of two existing campgrounds to be renovated. The 80-acre site features a barn at least 80 years old that will be repaired, and a new entrance will be built off Oak Park Avenue to help Camp Sullivan feel more isolated, Slattery said. Three bunkhouses constructed in 1975 will be renovated and 12 canvas cabins will be erected. The non-permanent cabins with cement floors will feature cots. The district will allow campers to bring their own tents.

"The bunkhouses currently have bunk beds that sleep 40 people, and only one bathroom," Slattery said. "We're going to build a modern toilet and shower building, like you'd find at a state park, with several bathroom stalls and showers."

Three new campgrounds will also be created, including a primitive one at Camp Bullfrog Lake at the Pulaski Woods in Willow Springs. The Bullfrog Lake site, west of Wolf Road and south of 95th Street near both Maple Lake and Red Gate Woods, was chosen because it is the center of the district, according to Slattery. Camp Bullfrog Lake will not have electricity or water.

"That's the heart of Palos Preserve, our flagship preserve," he said. "We wanted to take advantage of the natural topography and beauty: the rolling hills, and water, the proximity to the [Little Red Schoolhouse] Nature Center and the trails. The Palos Preserve is our largest single preserve. People can drive a half hour from downtown, and still be able to have a full, natural, outdoor experience."

The Palos Preserve features 50 miles of trails, 14 of which are paved and 36 of which are multi-use, Slattery said.

A second existing campground, Camp Reinberg in the Deer Grove Forest Preserve in Palatine, will feature eight tent cabins, 20 tent sites and a restroom with showers. The camp is currently closed because structures on the site violate building codes.

Two other campgrounds will be developed. Camp Pine Woods in Northbrook will provide an alternative to Camp Dan Beard, which will be closed. A bunkhouse, eight tent cabins, 20 tent sites, and toilet and shower facilities will be built. A canoe launch site and activities such as rope courses may be built in the future.

Shabbona Woods in South Holland will have eight tent cabins, 12 tent sites and a toilet building. Shabbona Woods, a former picnic grove, is close to the Sand Ridge Nature Center, 15890 S. Paxton Ave. in South Holland.

The district hopes to in the future add family cabins and additional dining and recreation opportunities at the five "top tier" campsites, but whether that can be accomplished depends on funding being available.

The district also plans to developing four primitive "second-tier" campgrounds including Camp Kiwanis, across the street from the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center, 9800 Willow Springs Road in Willow Springs. Camp Kiwanis will feature campsites for trailers and horses, Slattery said.

"We won't have tents for horses, but we will have more hitching posts," Slattery said. "The site currently connects to the equestrian trail system, and we haven't allowed people to camp there. It was brought up in focus groups that equestrians would really like that opportunity."

Other second-tier sites include possible camp locations at Skokie Lagoons, along the North Branch of the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River; and at Columbia Woods in Willow Springs or Thatcher Woods in River Forest.

"There will just be some limestone slabs for people to set up tents," Slattery said. "Right now, we are allowing people to camp at Columbia Woods, but it isn't obvious so we want to make it more clear to people where the campsites are. The idea is to create a few opportunities along the river. That way, paddlers and hikers can do a weekend, stay a couple of nights and stop at a few different points."

Columbia Woods would feature a small cluster of tent sites along the river. The islands at the Skokie Lagoons would allow space for one to three tents.

The district plans to allow campers to register for sites on its website and pay via credit or debit card. Rates will vary, but the cost is $25 per night for half of a large cabin at Camp Sullivan, Slattery said. Campers who do not want to use the online system can reserve sites at the district's office in River Forest. The district has a pool of funds available to groups that need subsidies, Slattery said.

The next step is more detailed architectural and engineering plans for the top-tier sites, which should be completed by the end of the year, Slattery said. Camp Sullivan and Camp Reinberg are expected to be open by spring 2014. The sites at Camp Bullfrog Lake and Camp Pine Woods are expected to be completed by mid-2015.

What do you say?

What area restaurant has the best bang for your buck?

(Asked at the Chef's Auction in Orland Park)

Dan Martin,
Orland Park

"I agree with Lori - Fox's Pub because price-wise, the pizza is great."

Debbie Boniface,
Homer Glen

"RoccoVino's has excellent food, great service and is a good value."

Jim Pleskunas,
Orland Park

"Aurelio's - the wine and beer and appetizers are all reasonable.

Laura Pleskunas,
Orland Park

"Buca di Beppo - they give you a lot of food for your money and anything they make with red sauce is great.''

Lori Martin,
Orland Park

"Fox's Pub because their pizza is inexpensive."

Grocery store will anchor Cicero/111th TIF district

Mariano's may yield $1.5M annually in sales and property tax dollars

By Laura Bollin

Fresh produce, flowers, sushi and oyster bars, salads, fresh meat and seafood are making their way to Oak Lawn.

The village on Tuesday announced that Mariano's Fresh Market will build a store in the retail development at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue. The 70,000-square-feet grocery store will anchor the development in the 111th and Cicero Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.

Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann delivered the news via a slideshow that including a graphic reading: "Breaking news: Mariano's coming to Oak Lawn."

"I think this is the worst-kept secret in the village," Heilmann said. "This is a terrific store."

Many residents had desired a Trader Joe's to come to the development, and Mariano's is a similar store, Heilmann said. The building will be at the northeast corner of the development, and will face 111th Street.

"Having a store like this fills a need, and brings hundreds of jobs to Oak Lawn," Heilmann said.

The mayor said 65 people will be employed on the site each day during construction. The store will attract other retailers to the site, he added.

"We've slogged through difficult times, and this is extremely positive," said Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen.

The site will be developed over the next few years, Deetjen said. The village owns the land and is leasing the property to real estate developer Hamilton Partners, he added.

"We own the dirt," Deetjen said. "We are giving Hamilton Partners the right to build on top of that land - retail and commercial establishments. From there, Hamilton Partners will enter into subleases with the tenants."

Heilmann said Mariano's will generate as much as $1 million per week and $50 million per year in sales. The Milwaukeebased company was founded by Robert Mariano, with the first store in Illinois built in Arlington Heights. The Oak Lawn store will be the company's 10th store in Illinois.

Oak Lawn Trustee Carol Quinlan said she has visited several Mariano's stores and met CEO Bob Mariano, and described him as a "strong businessman."

"He is a hands-on person," Quinlan said. "He personally goes into his stores. We wanted to bring in the best of the best, and we found that in Mariano's."

Hamilton Partners will develop 22.3 acres in the 40-acre TIF district. The total retail space in the development will be between 200,000 and 250,000 square feet. The village will not be making any of its own improvements in the district - all development will be through Hamilton Partners.

The village agreed to let Hamilton Partners bring in tenants at a meeting in August. At that meeting, Trustee Tom Phelan said the village could see between $1 and $1.5 million in combined annual retail and property sales tax revenues. Trustees have in executive session seen a design of what the redevelopment site might look like. Phelan said plans include a park at the corner of 111th Street and Cicero Avenue, and a pond traversed by a bridge.

Deetjen expects Mariano's to employ 400 people, and said the development as a whole will create "well over 1,200 jobs." No other tenants for the TIF district have been identified at this time.

"The property, which has been there for 37 years, has deteriorated over time," Deetjen said. "This is a very, very exciting time for the village."

The village created the TIF district in 2006 and owns Edgar Funeral Home, 10900 S. Cicero Ave.; the Kmart/Dominick's property; Mansard Court, 11004 S. Cicero Ave.; the space formerly occupied by Oak Lawn Harley Davidson, 11040 S. Cicero Ave.; and Interstate Muffler, 4800 W. 111th St. The Kmart and Harley Davidson properties have been demolished, and Edgar Funeral Home has been leased to Midwest Orthopedics.

The TIF district's boundaries are Cicero Avenue to the east, 111th Street to the south and Leamington Avenue to the west. The northern boundary is Wolfe Wildlife Refuge on the west and the Cloister Condominiums on the east.


Readers, we are surprised so few of you knew last week's "Whatizit?" was the skull of a tyrannosaurus rex. We accepted the simple answer of dinosaur, too. Those who got it right were Gene Sikora and E.J. Oahueke of Worth, Dan Higgins of Chicago Ridge, Lois Faragher of Palos Hills, Jane Foley of Oak Lawn, Bella Fruendt of Hickory Hills, and Carol DenBesten.

This week's clue is: I say to-may-to, you say to-motto. Send responses to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. under the subject Whatizit, and include your first and last names and where you live.

Evergreen top cop dismisses Fox News reports of gun deals, racial profiling

Says story is sensationalism, 'figment of the imagination'

By Laura Bollin

The police chief of Evergreen Park on Monday night responded to a news report that police officers from his department have been making deals for guns with would-be arrestees.

Chief Michael Saunders spoke at the Village Board's meeting about a Fox News Chicago story that alleged Evergreen Park police officers have been letting motorists out of traffic tickets in return for firearms. Saunders said the allegations are false.

"The officers were allegedly telling people to put their guns in a garbage can, and then the police would give the person a throwaway cell phone, and they could call and the officers would go get the gun, and then they would get out of the traffic stop," Saunders said. "What I explained [to Fox] was, first of all, nobody has come into the department and filed a complaint."

Saunders also responded to allegations by Fox News and the Better Government Association that the police department is guilty of racial profiling. The accusation arose after someone reportedly submitted an allegation to a Fox News reporter, Saunders said. He dismissed the allegations as "figments of the imagination."

The stories about the department aired on television last week, and Saunders declined to be interviewed by Fox because the allegations were false, he said.

"I'm not racist," Saunders said. "I don't care what color people are, or what color my officers are, I just want the best ones. [The allegations are] sensationalism. That's all this is."

The department reportedly received several calls from the press concerning the number of traffic stops and arrests relative to "benchmark analyses," which are reported to the Illinois Department of Transportation on an annual basis, the department stated in a press release. The current benchmark, based on a police review from 2004, estimated the minority driving population through the village at 62.57 percent. Saunders believes the current percentage should be closer to 90 percent.

A team of professors at Northwestern University in 2004 designated the benchmark at 12.3 percent - a figure Saunders called "impossible." That percentage was based on the demographics in Evergreen Park, and 12.3 percent is the minority population in Evergreen Park, not the driving population in the town, he said. He believed the 2004 figure to be impossible because of the village's close proximity to Chicago, and the number of Chicagoans that come into Evergreen Park to work and shop.

Saunders is currently putting together his own study on the minority driving population in Evergreen Park to submit to Northwestern University in March, and the university will then evaluate it, he said.

"A lot of these people come out this way to shop because of the lack of businesses on the South Side, which is one of the reasons we have such a high volume of traffic in town," Saunders said.

"We have two hospitals, Little Company of Mary and Advocate Christ, nearby; and we have the same traffic as the south side of Chicago," Saunders said.

Evergreen Park police reported 20,353 traffic stops in 2011 - 5,697 of Caucasian drivers and 14,656 of minority drivers. Chicago police during the same year reported seven times as many traffic stops as Evergreen Park with 140,942 - 39,780 of Caucasian drivers and 100,227 of minority drivers. Evergreen Park has a population of 25,044 people, roughly 108 times fewer than Chicago, which has an estimated population of roughly 2.7 million people.

"It is staggering they only made seven times more stops than us," Saunders said. "When we stop people, we stop people are who are driving with suspended licenses, revoked licenses, people with warrants, or people with guns or drugs in their cars."

Based on zip code analysis, 92.7 percent of drivers stopped in Evergreen Park - 15,926 out of 17,175 - live outside the village, according to data provided to the police department by IDOT. Minority drivers - 12,538 drivers out of 17,175 stopped - accounted for 73 percent of stops that year, the data shows.

The percentage of minority stops is reflective of traffic coming from outside Evergreen Park, particularly Chicago, police said. The police department records all of the racial information of arrestees via computer, and submits that data annually to IDOT.

The department states it has procedures in place that give stringent regulation to fair and unbiased enforcement of laws including traffic enforcement. Every traffic stop in the village is recorded on video with audio. Moving radar as well as stationary radar detections determines the speed of a vehicle prior to being able to see any identifying characteristics of a driver or passengers, police said.