For a minute there reporters thought they’d see Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel bird watching together.
Both touted the advantages of improving 140,000 acres in the Calumet region -- to be called Millennium Reserve -- at a cost of nearly $18 million.
The down payment comes from that capital bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly two years ago.
"This is one of the greatest pockets of wilderness that God ever created, said Quinn.
He said "nature-based tourism" is a popular new trend.
Emanuel called Lake Michigan "our Grand Canyon" and said he believes improving the area surrounding the lakefront will "make it a recreational frontier."
Also, Congressman Mike Quigley, who has had a long history with the project from his days as a Cook County Commissioner, says despite the factories nearby and damage done to the neighborhood, "nature hangs in there." He adds: "You can’t believe what folks are going to experience here."
"Trust me, this will be an area your children’s children will thank us for," he said.
It may take up to three years before anyone is actually walking on one of the 53 miles of new trails the reserve will create, but there are grand plans to one day see eagles fly as well as witness in person twenty other threatened animal species.
It’s all part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative combining federal, city and state funds.
On a political note, one notable elected official was missing: Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.
When asked, his press spokesman told Ward Room he didn’t know why Jackson wasn’t there.
Below, Gov. Pat Quinn's press release announcing the project:
CHICAGO -- December 9, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn was joined by federal, state and local officials today to announce a major partnership and conservation initiative that will significantly increase natural green space in Chicago. The Millennium Reserve is the largest open space project in the country, which will enhance public recreation opportunities in 140,000 acres of land in the Calumet region. Today, Governor Quinn announced the start of the Millennium Reserve: Calumet Core phase, which involves restoration of 15,000 acres of open space.
"The Millennium Reserve will expand the amount of green space in the Chicago area by more than 140,000 acres and give families living in our largest urban area more opportunities for outdoor recreation,” Governor Quinn said. “This important project will convert an industrial area into valuable open space that gives area families a place to gather, play and experience the great outdoors.”
As part of the Millennium Reserve: Calumet Core phase, Governor Quinn announced $17.9 million from the Illinois Jobs Now! capital program to improve recreational facilities in the area. The state is also partnering with the city of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and other groups on a number of projects to restore and conserve the Calumet area’s natural resources. Those projects, which are ongoing, will help form the Millennium Reserve.
"The investments we make in Chicago’s lake front, our river, and our parks are an investment in our people, creating jobs, attracting tourism, and enhancing our quality of life," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "Thanks to the leadership of Governor Quinn and Congressman Quigley, this project will open up a whole new horizon for our kids to play, to grow, and to discover the incredible natural beauty of Illinois that is their right and inheritance."
The project is part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to reconnect Americans, especially children, to America's rich outdoor treasures, build upon public and private priorities for conservation and recreation lands, and use science-based management practices to restore and protect our lands and waters for future generations.
“The Millennium Reserve initiative is a model for a 21st century approach to conservation and outdoor recreation that is grounded in strong community support and collaboration,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who recently named Calumet Open Space Reserve in an interior report on 100 promising conservation projects happening across the nation. “I applaud all the public and private partners that are coming together to advance this locally-driven initiative that will revitalize the region and its natural resources, strengthen the economy and help connect Americans to the great outdoors.”
U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-5) has been instrumental in organizing the many local and federal partners involved in the Millennium Reserve.
"Protecting the environment is the reason I got involved in politics, and ever since I served on the Cook County Board, I've been fighting to clean up and preserve areas like Lake Calumet," Rep. Quigley said. "By bringing together partners committed to conservation, the Millennium Reserve plan encourages a shared responsibility to maintain these once-uninhabitable areas, so that we can finally enjoy the benefits of this natural space and the economic development it will bring to Illinois."
"We've come to understand that every child, indeed every person, needs regular access to nature," said Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. "Taken in this context, the restoration and preservation of the 140,000 acres in the Millennium Reserve is arguably one of the most important open space efforts that Illinois governments have ever undertaken. We are very proud to be part of this collaboration."
As part of the Millennium Reserve: Calumet Core phase, the partners will work together on a number of projects, including:
Burnham Greenway Trail Gap - Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) - The first part of the newly-announced Burnham Greenway Gap project involves construction of a regional trail connecting the city of Chicago with the village of Burnham and the remainder of the south suburbs. The project provides for two bridges over the CSX Railroad and Grand Calumet River, both of which are major barriers to walking and cycling. Construction financing for the project was approved recently by CMAP. The second part of the project involves a long-term lease that DNR has executed with ComEd that will allow for public access to the two miles of gap remaining in the green way.
Park and Recreational Facility Construction (PARC Grant Program) - The PARC Grant Program, administered by the DNR, supports targeted investments in recreational and community infrastructure.
Indian Ridge Marsh - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Indian Ridge Marsh is a 145-acre site that was originally a marshy area along the shoreline of Lake Calumet. The major features of Indian Ridge Marsh restoration project include preserving the existing rookery for the endangered black-crowned night heron, improving existing aquatic, wetland and woodland areas of the marsh, creating new habitat features, and constructing compatible recreational trails.
Chicago Park District projects - The Chicago Park District recently acquired more than 680 acres of open space in the Calumet area from the city of Chicago. The park district is working with the city to transition these open lands, as well as conducting restoration work to preserve the native landscape.
Forest Preserve District of Cook County - The Forest Preserve District of Cook County owns more than 9,300 acres, approximately 60 percent of the natural land in the Millennium Reserve: Calumet Core area. The district plans to invest more $4.5 million in capital improvements, including expansion and planning for new trails, renovating historic buildings and improving parking and access to Cook County preserves. Landscape restoration work is also taking place with several partner stewardship groups.
Calumet Heritage Area Historic Trails – The Calumet Heritage Partnership, Chicago’s Field Museum and the National Parks Conservation Association are partnering with other interested stakeholders to plan development of historical trails and locations in the Calumet region.
For more information about the initiative, please visit MillenniumReserve.Illinois.gov.