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Let’s get to work

By JENN WIANT - jwiant@nwherald.com

RICHMOND – The 415-acre North Nippersink Conservation Area doesn't look like much from Keystone Road in rural Richmond, but it contains a high-quality section of Nippersink Creek and is an important link between two popular trails used by hikers, bikers, skiers and snowmobilers.

This week, members of the conservation district started construction on a trail and parking lot at the site, marking not only the start of a project to connect the Hebron Trail to the Prairie Trail, but also the start of a series of recreational improvements and land purchases made possible by Tuesday's successful $73 million referendum.

“We’ve now got the financial resources,” conservation district Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler said. “We will be rolling them out as efficiently as possible.”

Kessler said the district planned to survey community members this summer about where they wanted to see new sites, what kinds of recreational opportunities they believed were lacking and how they would like the district to prioritize its projects.

The money will allow the district to buy about 4,500 acres of open space around the county, build new trails and add amenities to existing sites, Kessler said.

Using public input, the district will develop a master plan establishing guidelines for choosing sites, where to add recreational amenities and where to protect natural areas, said the district’s Planning and Development Manager Amy Peters.

Conservation District Board President Joe Gottemoller said the board could start spending the money as soon as the district floated the bonds and found property owners willing to sell.

The $600,000 North Nippersink Conservation Area improvement project includes a 1.75-mile unpaved trail, a bridge over the Nippersink Creek and a 35-space parking lot. Future plans include adding a campground for cyclists, bathrooms and a drinking fountain, Peters said.

The new gravel trail, expected to be completed in early fall, will connect the 2-mile Hebron Trail, which runs from Hebron to near the intersection of Keystone and Burgett roads in Richmond, to the 26-mile Prairie Trail, which runs north and south from the McHenry County line in Algonquin to the Wisconsin border. About $300,000 of the project was paid for by a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Peters said.

The goal, conservation district Trustee Nancy Williamson said, is to get people to the conservation area but still to protect the land and the Nippersink stream.

But a common concern among residents in the more populated parts of the county is that most of the district’s major sites are in the more rural, northern and western parts of the county, including the North Nippersink Conservation Area.

Kessler said the goal of the conservation district was to acquire land all over the county.

“Obviously the areas that are more populated, they've been developed,” she said, while pointing out that in the past few years the district had acquired Fox Bluff, The Hollows and Silver Creek conservation areas in Cary and a Lake in the Hills fen.

She said district officials also were looking at acquiring some other properties in Nunda and Algonquin townships.

Right now, about 75 percent of the 20,193 acres the district owns or manages are accessible to the public, Peters said. The other 25 percent is either leased farmland or conservation easements and not publicly accessible, she said.

Despite concerns, about 17,540 of those who voted Tuesday, or about 57 percent, supported the referendum, according to unofficial results. Taxes for the average McHenry County home, valued at $239,100, will increase by about $32 a year as a result.

About 13,400 voters opposed the referendum.

Gottemoller said he was surprised that the vote had such a wide margin.

“It’s nice to have that kind of support,” he said.

He added that the district had been working from a plan to buy open space in the county since the last referendum passed in 2001. It ran out of money four or five months ago, Gottemoller said.

What it means

Now that taxpayers have approved a $73 million referendum for the McHenry County Conservation District, they can expect to be asked for input about how the money should be prioritized, Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler said.

Located in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the lawyers at Madsen, Sugden & Gottemoller, Attorneys at Law, represent clients in McHenry County, including the communities of: Crystal Lake, McHenry, Waukegan, Woodstock, Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Cary, Elgin, Dundee, Barrington, Harvard, Marengo, and Johnsburg.

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