By Tom Robb
Harms Woods, a 169-acre section of Cook County Forest Preserve along the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River in Glenview, has been designated the 25th Illinois Nature Preserve in the state.
Cook County commissioners, who also serve as forest preserve commissioners, voted to designate Harms Woods an Illinois Nature Preserve at their Oct. 22 meeting.
The designation shows a higher, more diverse ecological value for Harms Woods’ flora and fauna, and affords the area more special protections against any kinds of development to disturb the area, requiring not only county approval, but state approval — even to build a road.
“I took my kids to Harms Woods,” said Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton (D-14th), who lives in Glenview and is a former village trustee. “With 350 species of plants, it creates one of the best, multi-layered areas in the forest preserve (system). I cannot think of a better way to protect against climate change that expanding green space and protecting great places for people to go.”
Britton, who grew up on a downstate farm, said it takes a lot to restore the land to a natural state once it has been farmed or developed. “Harms Woods just has that (natural state).”
The Cook County Forest Preserve system is 70,000 acres in size, but only 7,248 acres carry the highest state protected designation of Illinois Nature Preserve.
Cook County Forest Preserve spokesman Carl Vogel said the forest preserve contains 10,000 acres of protected land, some of which has a lower designation that the state nature preserve.
Steve Adams and Katie Moriarity of the Cook County Forest Preserves get walkers ready for a nature walk at Harms Woods on Saturday morning, Oct. 26.
“The Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan seeks to designate and register 20,000 acres with the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission (designation).” Vogel said.
Jane and John Balaban of Skokie, stewards of Harms Woods, have been part of the North Branch Restoration Project since 1980 and have been working as volunteers and stewards in Harms Woods since 1987.
Jane Balaban said the diverse plant life supports a great diversity of insects, birds and other animals. She said a century ago, there were homesteads in what is now Harms Woods, but said because of the river, which affected the soils, the land was never plowed and farmed. Because of that, invasive harmful species of plants such as buckthorn, never grew, allowing the area to develop in a healthier way while supporting more diversity.
“It’s a privilege,” Jane Balaban said. “The fact we have these natural areas is so important.” She continued: “One hundred years ago we had natural areas with islands of people. Now we have areas of people with islands of nature, so we have to take care of it.”
“Protecting and restoring our natural lands is vital to ensuring these spaces are available for the public to enjoy for many generations to come,” Cook County Forest Preserves Board President (and county board president) Toni Preckwinkle said. “Without the Illinois Nature Preserves System and the Forest Preserves of Cook County, many of Illinois’ plants, animals and ecosystems would be lost forever.”