Forest Preserve District of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced today that the District is launching a new, wide-ranging effort to increase youth outreach.
Beginning this summer, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County will facilitate new programming and send up to 2,000 Cook County young people on visits to its six nature centers.
The outreach initiative will be funded in part by the District’s new “Greens for Teens” Annual Golf Tournament.
President Preckwinkle said the goal is to provide young people from Chicago’s neighborhoods with an introduction to the forest preserves and new outdoor experiences.
President Preckwinkle said the effort is a collaborative project between her office and Forest Preserve District General Superintendent Arnold Randall.
“The Forest Preserves are a vital resource and the more people we can introduce to the great outdoor opportunities we have to offer, the better. The county can do more to help young people foster a lifelong appreciation of nature,” she said.
Randall said the District needs to be significantly more accessible and that means bringing in people who wouldn’t normally visit the county’s forest preserves.
“This tournament has been envisioned as a way for the District to raise non-tax revenue to benefit Cook County children, particularly those who may otherwise never have had an opportunity to experience Forest Preserve District lands,” Randall said.
Beginning in May, the Forest Preserve District will work closely with community leaders, civic organizations and elected officials to identify groups throughout the city who work with children that can participate in the program, Randall said.
These organizations include Hull House Association and Fishin’ Buddies, Inc., whose directors, Clarence Wood and John Kidd, Jr., respectively, joined President Preckwinkle for the announcement.
Randall said there is a clear need to link people who live in the city with the natural resources throughout the rest of Cook County.
“Through something as fundamental as providing bus transportation between Chicago neighborhoods and our nature centers, we are bridging a gap that seems far wider than it is,” said Randall.
“Our biggest challenge is to simply get the children into the preserves, which we are committing to do, and our naturalist staff will provide them with some of the best environmental education programming in the country.”
Billy Casper Golf (“BCG”), which has managed and maintained the District’s 10 golf courses and four driving ranges since 2002, is also a pro bono co-sponsor of the tournament and the outreach program.
Jered Wiedland, BCG Vice-President for Operations in the Midwestern United States, was on-hand and praised the effort, noting that BCG was proud to take part in the initiative.
This effort is also part of the District’s ongoing participation in the national “Leave No Child Inside” initiative – an effort to get more children outside and increase the amount and quality of time that they spend there. While the City of Chicago offers children many recreational opportunities, less than 10-percent of the 68,000 acres of Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s land are located within city limits.
“This means we need to be proactive in reaching out and bringing the Forest Preserves to our city residents,” said President Preckwinkle.
In the upcoming weeks, announcements regarding the creation of a partnership with a charter school for the creation of a new, bilingual environmental curriculum and the introduction of the new Citizen Naturalist program will also be announced.