McHenry County Conservation District exists to preserve, restore, and manage natural areas and open spaces for their intrinsic value and for the benefits to present and future generations.
By the year 2020, McHenry County Conservation District will be a premier public agency in the country for preserving, protecting and managing open space. Residents will have developed a personal responsibility for their local environment, gained a greater appreciation for their natural world and invested into ensuring its future protection.
Achieving this vision will: Inspire respect for the land; Promote sound environmental practices; Promote the long-term viability of the county’s biodiversity; Provide opportunities for responsible use of the land in concert with natural resources; Promote environmental stewardship; Provide quality experiences that promote green, healthy and balanced lifestyles; Connect children to nature and; Foster public and private partnerships.
Promoting Conservation, Education and Recreation
McHenry County Conservation District owns or manages over 25,300 acres of open land diverse with woodlands, prairies, wetlands, ponds, creeks, and rivers. Thirty-three sites are currently open to the public year-round featuring trails, picnic shelters, camp sites, fishing sites, rare plant and animal examples, educational facilities, and more. In addition, within the District’s sites there are 17 State Nature Preserves.
Created by a group of ecologically conscientious citizens in 1971 and supported by the Illinois Conservation District Act of 1963, the McHenry County Conservation District began with the mission to preserve open space, and to provide environmental education programs and resources for recreational opportunities to the public.
The District was established by a successful county wide referendum held in conjunction with the general election of April 1971 and formally organized in July 1971. The first Board of Trustees were appointed by the County Board Chairman and included:
Mr. Arthur Baker—President, served 1971–1974
Dr. George Buehler—Treasurer, served 1971–1977
Mr. Frank Fabbri—Secretary, served 1971–1975
Mr. Robert Fritz—Trustee, served 1971–1977
Dr. William Howenstine—Trustee, served 1971–1979; 1996–2001
The first land purchase was made in 1973 when 50 acres that make up a portion of Beck’s Woods Conservation Area in Chemung were acquired. Since that time, thousands of acres have been added to the preservation securities of the District from the 74-acre Harrison Benwell to the 3,300 acre Glacial Park which features wetlands, prairie, glacial kames and Nippersink Creek.
The distinctiveness of McHenry County’s natural land was a driving force in the creation of the Conservation District. That desire for preservation has continued to inspire land purchases. Throughout the 1970s the District added 2,167 acres. The 80s added 2,353 acres. The rapid growth of the 90s increased the value of land preservation and the District acquired 7,144 acres. Today, The Conservation District protects over 25,000 acres throughout the McHenry County.
What is a Conservation District?
A conservation district is a special district with specific purposes established under Illinois statutes following a favorable public referendum. Its purpose includes the acquisition of land by purchase, lease, gift or easement; the preservation and maintenance of wild land, other open land, scenic roadways and pathways; and the holding of such real property, with or without public access for the education, pleasure and recreation of the public or for other open space values. To date, there are five counties in Illinois that have created such districts: Boone, Macon, McHenry, Putnam and Vermilion.
Funding for the District is a result of its ability to levy an annual tax not to exceed 1/10th of one percent of the assessed valuation of the county and is based upon a duly adopted budget and appropriation ordinance on which there has been a public hearing. Supplemental monies may be made available through state and federal open space or recreational grants. The District boundaries are co-terminus with those of the County and lie within the standard metropolitan planning region of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission.
The State of Illinois Conservation District Act defines open land or open space as any space or area of land or water, the preservation or the restriction of development or the use of which would maintain or enhance the conservation of natural and/or scenic resources. The acquisition of such open land can be for the purpose of protecting a natural stream or water supply, promoting the conservation of soils or wetlands and affording or enhancing public outdoor recreational activities. The District can also acquire wild land which is open land not under cultivation or subject to intensive use or development.