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The Preserve of Highland Park

The Preserve of Highland Park will feature linked trails, green lawns, natural areas, play areas, specialized gardens, and restored woodlands.  Visitors can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, and experiences of nature and outdoor play. Pathways already connect the community to the Recreation Center, the Golf Learning Center, Skokie River Woods, and provide links to neighborhoods and downtown Highland Park.  Walkers and bikers are welcome to tour the property.  In the months ahead, construction will begin on a pond overlook, gardens, seating areas, and play areas. Occasional closures may occur for maintenance and signs will be posted.

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Progress is underway to create an immersive and accessible experience that evokes the character of our natural landscape. Nearly 50 acres have been seeded with native plants in five different planting zones that reflect the underlying soils and water conditions. The planting plan can be viewed here.

It will take three to five years for the native planting areas to fully established. In the meantime, enhanced planting areas of live plants, especially in wetland and shoreline areas, will provide structure and a sense of stewardship.

Following the framework of the new perennial landscape design movement, a curated palette of plant species will reflect the color and structure of the historic wetlands, prairies and savanna habitat on the site. This movement promotes the use of:

  • Plants that are suitable for conditions of soil type and moisture
  • Planting zones that use a limited number of species in bold ways
  • Native grasses to provide seasonal interest, composition, and movement to the landscape
  • Perennial native plants to add color, structure and beneficial resources for pollinators, birds and other living creatures

Restoration of the wooded areas on the east side of the property has cleared the way for existing native wildflowers to bloom and created new vistas for users of the north-south bike trail that runs through from Park Avenue West to Route 22.

To view the concept plan, click here

Wetlands and Their Role in Flooding

Wetlands play a vital role in absorbing stormwater. The Preserve, located on the banks of the Skokie River, already provides valuable open space where stormwater can collect. The addition of 50 acres of native plantings will increase this capacity as deep-rooted native plants will absorb rainwater and allow it to evaporate over time into the atmosphere. An analysis of the flooding patterns on the property guided the selection of plants that tolerate the typical flood/drought of our Midwestern growing season.

The District is part of the effort led by the City of Highland Park to find future solutions to flooding in our community. The approved master plan for the property includes a concept design for potential additional flood storage on the site. The design consists of expanding the existing ponds with shallow water habitat areas, called Hemi-marshes. The plan preserves and enhances the natural areas, trails, and features currently under development.



1/17/20 – The Illinois Governor’s Office announced that Highland Park was among those agencies selected for funding for the Illinois Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant.  As a result, the Park District will receive $400,000 that will be used for trail work, park amenities, landscaping and signage at Community Park. 

1/7/20 – In December 2019, the Community Park Master Plan was updated to reflect the Park District’s receipt of grant funding for Shoreline Restoration of the North Pond made available through the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission.  Funding for this portion of the project is provided, in part, by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.

6/10/19 – Interested residents joined Park District staff, advisory committee members and Park Board to view final details of the Community Park plans.  Advisory committee member Peggy Luce gave an informative wrap up of  the planning process and Hey and Associates made a power point presentation which you can view here to highlight the key elements of the new park.

3/5/19 – The Park District held the final Advisory Committee meeting to share details of design including materials, plantings and form for key elements on the property.  Next steps will include a public meeting and approval by the Park District Board of Directors.

To view the presentation from the Advisory Committee meeting, click here.

2/5/19 – As design plans take shape, the Park Board asked staff to begin outlining approaches to naming the new park.   Until a formal name is adopted, we will begin to refer to the property as the community park at the Recreation Center of Highland Park.

1/16/19 – More than 50 guests came to the District’s public open house on January 15 to view concept plans for the project.  Attendees had a chance to watch a video overview of the project, see  renderings depicting proposed nature play, paths, gathering areas, as well as a chance to review maps that show how those elements are arrayed in activity zones throughout the park.  Materials that sparked the senses were on display to highlight the areas for quiet enjoyment and habitat that are found throughout the property.   Staff gathered input from participants at four different stations.   The information collected will be used to guide design of the park.

12/19/18 – On December 4,  Park District staff presented an updated version of the Highland Park Country Club (HPCC) property  conceptual plan to the Board of Directors.   Watch for information about our public meeting in January when we will invite the community to share their thoughts on the conceptual plans.

11/15/18 – The  Advisory Committee met on Wed., Nov 14 to review and provide input on the project concept plan.  Below are highlights of the plan:

Vision – to provide our community with an inter-generational experience with multiple levels of activity and engagement in the surrounding natural habitats.
Theme – “Play in Nature
Foundation – green play spaces surrounded by thoughtfully arranged native plantings that reflect the functionality of the land.
Amenities –  spring organically from the land and feature simple ideas for augmenting enjoyment of desired activities of walking, leisure biking, cross country skiing and running, access to water, picnicking, and exploring nature.

Northern Zone – Privacy is created  with grassland habitat for birds
Middle Zone – an area for family and group activity, that takes advantage of water features and access to parking in the Golf Learning Center
Southern Zone  (closest to the Recreation Center) –  answers community desire for play close in to the building that might be especially attractive to users of the recreation center, future senior center and also families with young children.

10/2/18 – As we enter final stages of negotiation for the purchase, the Park District of Highland Park is beginning the initial stages of converting the Highland Park Country Club (HPCC) property to a new unique natural area and passive recreation park.  Seeding of native grasses and flowers is planned for late fall in areas identified as best suited for habitat.  The first Advisory Committee meeting was held September 26th.  The committee provided feedback on potential recreational opportunities for the site, gained direction to ensure that our plan addresses the needs of our diverse community and neighbors, and heard examples of other sites that can serve as inspiration for the planning team.

To view the presentation from the Advisory Committee meeting, click here

9/20/18 – The Park District of Highland Park is beginning the initial stages of converting the Highland Park Country Club  (HPCC) property to a new unique natural area and passive recreation park.

Here is a summary of the steps that will take place this Fall to convert the property:

  • Seeding will be done late fall in areas identified as best suited for natural habitat.   A quick growing grass will be used in the mix so there will be green in spring as the other plants get started.
  • To prepare for seeding, areas of the property will be treated to kill the turf grass.  The course will be closed periodically during this work. Signs will be posted.


Project Summary

Scope: An inter-generational experience with multiple levels of activity and engagement surrounded by natural habitats.

The foundation of the plan rests on green play spaces surrounded by thoughtfully arranged native plantings that reflect the functionality of the land.  The amenities that are proposed spring organically from the land and feature simple, cost-effective ideas for augmenting enjoyment of activities such as walking, leisure biking, cross country skiing and running, access to water, picnicking, exploring nature and a gathering place for the community.

Click here for a summary sheet of the project.


On June 10th, a public meeting will be held to present final designs for the new community park. The plans were developed in collaboration with a resident Advisory Committee, Park District staff and Board, guided by the planning firm Hey and Associates.

On January 15, 2019 conceptual plans were reviewed at a public open house.  At the June 10 meeting, there will be a presentation of the final design plans as well as conceptual plans for  stormwater storage on the property.

The District is currently working with other stakeholders and permitting agencies to gain the necessary approvals for the plans which include improvements to pathways, picnic and seating areas, gardens, overlooks and play areas.   Plans call for initial construction to begin later this fall.

Click here to view the conceptual plan.


The public planning process for the Community Park is complete.  Currently, walkers and bikers are welcome to “Take a Walk” as a way of getting to know the natural features of the property.  Occasional closures may occur for maintenance purposes and signs will be posted.

Q:  What’s in store?

A:  The community park will provide a one of a kind passive recreational experience for walking, leisure biking, running, playing and enjoying the outdoors.  It features green spaces for gathering interwoven with natural areas, native gardens and restored woods.  Park pathways will connect the community to the Recreation Center of Highland Park, the Highland Park Golf Learning Center and Skokie River Woods, as well as links between neighborhoods and downtown Highland Park.

Q:  What is a passive recreation area?

A:   Passive recreation areas highlight the natural habitat and provide low intensity amenities such as picnic areas, benches, and trails.

Q:  What is the project timeline?

A:  The Park District is in the process of gaining necessary approvals from stakeholders and permitting agencies.   Installation of native seeds is complete and restoration of the Highland Park Woods portion of the property is well underway.   Once approvals have been given, construction will begin, anticipated Fall 2020. 

Q:  Will dogs be allowed on site?

A:   Dogs on leash will be allowed to use the site.  Dog walkers are responsible for cleaning up after pets.  Dog bag dispensers like those found at other District parks will be provided.

Q:  What will be the park hours?

A:   Like other District parks, the community park will be open from dawn to dusk.

Q:  Will bikes be allowed?

A:   The District supports transportation alternatives, including bikes!  While walking is the anticipated primary use of the interior trails, there will be a connector path across the property that is shared use for bikes and pedestrians.  The designated City bike trail already runs along the east side of the property, connecting Park Avenue West and Half Day Road.  Bike racks will be provided.

Q:  How will I find my way around?

A:  One of the fundamental features of the community park is the wide-open spaces and views.  Visitors can enjoy being in nature with parking, recreational and community facilities nearby!  Signage, including maps and wayfinding systems, is being developed as part of the planning process.

Q:  What water activities will be allowed?

A:  There are several ponds on the property, and we heard from our Advisory Committee that access to water was key.   Plans call for several ways to engage with the ponds and wetlands on the property, including a water overlook, designated viewing areas, and water-based nature play.  Fishing will be allowed in designated areas.  Current plans do not include boating. Swimming will not be allowed.

Q:  Will cross country skiing be encouraged?

A:  We’ve heard from many residents who already enjoy cross country skiing on our park properties!  At the community park, we have plans to create mown trails that can be used for cross country runners in the warm months and cross-country skiers when there is snow.  Also, mown edges on major park trails will provide additional pathways for both.

Q:  What about plans to provide flood storage on the site?

A:  The goal of the community park project is to create a unique passive natural recreation area for our community.  The property also presents an opportunity to enhance stormwater storage capacity on the site to help alleviate flooding for our residents, especially those residing in the Skokie River watershed.  In the near term, our plans to restore wetland habitat and native vegetation will help with both water quality and in reducing flooding on the site.

The Park District is working with the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission and the City of Highland Park to seek grant funding for flood storage areas that would also enhance the natural habitat and enjoyment of the site.  We will work in partnership with these agencies to preserve the essence of the natural areas, public spaces and trails being implemented in the community park project.

Q:  Will there be restrooms?

A:   In the near term, the Park District will provide “Port a Potty” type facilities in locations where they were found on the former golf course.   The Park District is exploring funding and design options for upgraded facilities similar to those found in many county Forest Preserve properties.

Q:  Will it be possible to book parties, events and/or picnics?

A:   In the future, we hope that picnicking on the park greens will be a popular activity!  Designated picnic areas taking advantage of tree cover for shade and vistas for great views are in the plans. Trash cans, picnic tables and bench seating will be provided, as will routine park maintenance.  At that time, groups of 12 or more wishing to use park grounds or picnic in the park will be required to secure a permit prior to their visit.

Q:  What about Quiet Zones?

A:  Plans call for designated habitat areas in the north end of the community park reserved for walking and leisure biking. We are hopeful that these areas will become popular with resident and migratory birds in the area.

Q:  Are there other considerations?

A:  We are looking forward to contributing to the health and enjoyment of our community!