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posted: 11/11/2015 5:47 AM

Lake County Forest Preserve makes huge land buy: Cuneo property

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  • Video: The Cuneo Purchase


One of the largest acquisitions in the more than 50-year history of the Lake County Forest Preserve District also is considered a cornerstone for the future.

Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously agreed to buy 337 acres in Fremont Township, known as the Cuneo property, for nearly $10.5 million as an addition to the Ray Lake Forest Preserve and another piece of a much larger natural complex.

The goal is to restore the rolling property to a native grassland as may have been seen hundreds of years ago, district officials said, and the $31,043-per-acre purchase was an essential part of its long range vision. With elevation changes of 54 feet, the property offers expansive, open views.

The availability of such a large parcel also was considered a rarity in an urbanized environment.

"I generally am not in favor of additional land acquisition," said Commissioner Chuck Bartels, who has been on the board about a year and whose district includes the property. "What I've learned is this board makes smart acquisitions."

Combined with Ray Lake to the southeast and the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda, the property, much of which is being farmed, totals 3,738 acres.

The district's largest purchase was the 1,020-acre Lakewood Farms in 1967. Since then, there have been only 10 acquisitions of 300 acres or more. The forest district has a long-range goal of establishing 10,000-acre natural complexes connected by waterways and green areas.

Such complexes improve wildlife habitat, enhance water and air quality, curb flood damage and preserve natural vistas, according to Ann Maine, forest board president.

An area off Chardon Road -- including the home of John Cuneo, whose family had vast holdings in Lake County -- is not included in the purchase.

A closing is expected by the end of the year.

Commissioner Bonnie Thomson Carter, former forest board president, said the land acquisition strategy has changed during the past few years to determining what's important and pursuing it. The district initiated the purchase.

The district received $1.085 million from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. Of that money, $1 million will go toward the purchase and the remainder will be used for restoration.

Commissioner Carol Calabresa, chairwoman of the land preservation and acquisition committee that oversaw the purchase, said expansion of philanthropic support and building partner relationships are part of the district's 100-year vision.

The purchase was made possible through $185 million in funding approved in 2008 by voters.

The last $25 million of that authorization was sold as bonds Monday, leaving about $8 million for land acquisitions.

District officials say an upcoming residents survey will not ask for opinions on another referendum for purchases and restoration.

"Let's take a breath. How are we doing?" said Ty Kovach, executive director. "Are we focusing in the right direction?"

The Cuneo purchase brings the district's holdings to 30,722 acres.