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The Preserve of Highland Park

The Preserve of Highland Park located adjacent to the Recreation Center of Highland Park is a one-of-a-kind natural area for passive recreation that includes green lawns, nature-based play areas, specialized native gardens, restored woodlands, and walking and biking trails that connect neighborhoods, downtown Highland Park, and regional biking trails.  Designated Preserve trails are open to the public during construction with substantial completion of features in December 2021.

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Progress is underway to create an immersive and accessible experience that evokes the character of our natural landscape. With trails linking green lawns, natural areas and restored woodlands, visitors will immerse themselves in the sights, sounds and experiences of nature and outdoor play. 

The Park District of Highland Park began the initial stages of converting the former golf course on the Highland Park Country Club (HPCC) property with the formal acquisition of the property from the City of Highland Park in fall 2018. Already a protected open space, the 100-acre parcel featured promising woodland, wetland and riverfront habitat areas, as well as interesting golf-related topography and features such as sand traps, meandering cart paths and river crossings. It was a rare opportunity for the community to have such a large open space available for passive recreation.  It also met a need for residents to have access to additional walking and biking trails identified in a Park District Community Attitude and Interest Survey from 2009 and 2013. 

A citizen advisory committee formed in fall 2018 to brainstorm a master plan that could bring these elements together. In June 2019, following a community survey, public open houses and numerous committee meetings, the group presented its final plan that prioritized the natural environment and provided nature-based play opportunities and places to relax and explore in the outdoors, close to home. The resulting master plan was approved by elected officials of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, City of Highland Park and Park District board of commissioners in April 2020.  

Meantime, nearly 50 acres were seeded with native plants in planting zones that reflect the underlying soils and water conditions. Enhanced planting areas of live plants, especially in wetland and shoreline areas, provide structure and a sense of stewardship.

With funding from the IDNR’s OSLAD program approved in August 2020, the project moved into construction phase. On September 22, 2020, the Park Board approved Team REIL’s construction bid for $1,204,290 to complete amenities, trail work and restoration of the shoreline of the North Pond, a project funded through IEPA 319 grant with the assistance of the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission.

Funding for this project is provided in part by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. 


  • Pond and Wetland Overlooks
  • Pollinator Garden
  • Nature Maze
  • Turtle Meadow and Sand Play Area
  • New and improved trail connections
  • Picnic and seating areas
  • Lawn spaces for play, picnics, programs, and events



Construction Begins/Site PreparationOctober 2020
Phase I: Shoreline Grading, Overlooks, Trail PrepNovember - December 2020
Phase II: Ongoing Trail Work, Connecting Paths and AmenitiesJanuary - April 2021
Phase III: Plantings, Final Trail Work, Completion of AmenitiesMay - October 2021
Phase IV: Final Details and RestorationNovember - December 2021
Opening CelebrationMay 2022


$1.7 million


  • North Pond Shoreline Restoration, IEPA 319 Funds, $144,672
  • Community Park Development, IDNR OSLAD Funds, $400,000


Project Wingspan recipient (2 years) of plants for pollinators


10/29/21 – Here’s a fun way to learn more about The Preserve. Temporary informational signs have been posted throughout the park. Point your phone camera at the QR Code to download a colorful PDF with details about the park’s new amenities. See if you can find all 8! (Hint: there’s a map included at the Entry Plaza).

10/22/21 – New journeys are possible now that the “Connector Trail” linking both sides of The Preserve across the Skokie River is complete! The path heads west across a footbridge to a wetland overlook (still under construction) and joins with the Gateway Path leading south to the Golf Learning Center. 

Funding for the Connector Trail is provided in part by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD Program.

10/15/21 – Exciting developments at The Preserve this week as the turtle climbing mounds gained their colorful shells! The two play surfaces represent spotted and painted turtles. Signage will be installed with turtle facts and photos. Picnic tables and a sand play table will add to the enjoyment.

Funding for the Sand Play area is provided in part by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD Program.

10/08/21 – The new Turtle Meadow at the far north end of The Preserve is a quiet area dedicated to turtle nesting habitat.  Shayna Zavell, a Highland Park resident, has been instrumental in researching their needs and helping prepare the right conditions, including full sun and sandy soil.  Old sand traps on the former golf course fit this bill and have been repurposed by adding sand and drought-tolerant plantings. In the future, we hope to invite volunteers to monitor the turtle’s progress.  For more information, contact

The Turtle Meadow is funded in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

10/01/21 – This week, parts of The Preserve are looking a little greener than usual as contractors re-seeded areas along pathways and around new features to restore turf grass and native plants. A special green mulch mixed with water is spread over the top of the seeds to protect them as they grow. We ask that visitors give the new areas a chance to get established by staying on paths and keeping dogs on leashes!

9/24/21One of the most anticipated features of The Preserve is the North Pond Overlook. This accessible platform, delivered on-site this week, will give visitors a new perspective on the many kinds of wildlife including wetland birds, turtles, and fish that enjoy this large pond. 

Funding for the North Pond Overlook is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program. 

9/17/21 – A significant milestone has been achieved by completing the path paving on the east side of The Preserve. Crews are currently restoring the path edges with turf and native seeds that can be mown to create additional walking space and maintain a trim look in our native areas.

Funding for improved pathways is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

9/10/21 – Natural Areas volunteers welcomed Eleanor Schumacher, Project Wingspan Illinois State Coordinator, in a visit to The Preserve this week.

The Preserve is one of many sites where the seeds of pollinator-friendly plants are collected and then distributed around the Midwest region to create additional habitats for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. For more information on Project Wingspan, click here.

9/01/21 – Contractors will be busy at The Preserve on September 2 and 3 with paving services planned throughout the park. Visitors are reminded to stay on designated paths and be aware of truck activity in the Recreation Center parking lot.

Funding for improved pathways is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

8/30/21 – Natural Areas volunteers are busy collecting seeds as part of the District’s commitment to the Illinois Monarch Project. Seeds from pollinator-friendly native plants will be processed and shared with other partners through Project Wingspan. The goal of both programs is to increase habitat for butterflies and other pollinators throughout the region.

8/19/21 – Two key elements of The Preserve trail network were dug this week. The final leg of the Connector Trail that connects the park across the Skokie River was prepared for surfacing as was a short but crucial segment linking visitors to the gazebo and ponds near the Recreation Center.  Funding for trail restoration and development is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

8/04/21 – Five varieties of apple trees were installed in the pollinator garden this week. Funding for the pollinator garden is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

7/28/21 – There was a lot of activity at The Preserve this week as contractors began to prepare pathways for restoration throughout the site.  When the park is complete, there will be several major looping paths and access across the Skokie River to the adjacent Golf Learning Center.  Funding for path work is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

7/8/21 – Maintenance continues at The Preserve to help establish the many new landscape features.  There are six areas set aside as “greens” of mown grass where games, picnics and events can take place in the future. Turtle Meadow, Savanna Picnic Grove, The Green, The Gazebo, Entry Plaza/Group Exercise and Reflection Green are all managed with ongoing mowing by Parks crews. Crews also keep mown edges on paths that are currently open for walking.  In other areas, mowing is restricted to provide habitat and a transition between greens and natural areas, like “rough” on a golf course. A side benefit of these “no-mow” areas has been that oak tree seedlings have taken root to provide us with new trees in the future!

6/21/21 – Due to construction taking place in the new Nature Maze, the inner loop of the red trail will be closed.  An updated trail map is found here.  We apologize for any inconvenience. Watch this space for updates and please remember to stay on designated paths for safety.

6/17/21 – More than a dozen species of pollinator-friendly plants (over 600 in all) have been installed in the new Pollinator Garden at The Preserve. These groupings will provide a constant source of pollen (protein) and nectar (carbohydrate) for butterflies, bees, moths, and other pollinators.  Funding for the Pollinator Garden is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

6/03/21 – This week at The Preserve, crews planted ribbons of native plants leading to the North Pond as part of a state-level effort to make our waterways clean and healthy. Hundreds of plants were installed along two water pathways called swales. Swales are areas where water concentrates as it flows across the property during storms. Eventually this water makes its way to the North Branch of the Chicago River (Skokie River) which runs along the west side of the property.  Native plants help reduce soil erosion which can lead to water pollution and filter pollutants such as excess phosphorus and nitrogen. This work was funded in part by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.

5/28/21 – Many pollinator-friendly plants were blooming at The Preserve this week. Prairie Smoke is showing off its feathery flowers and receiving bee visitors in the native plant demonstration garden. Last Saturday, volunteers from Gratitude Generation helped plant 200 stems of milkweed and other plants donated by Project Wingspan. We look forward to seeing what those blooms bring!

5/21/21 – Several seating areas were under construction this week at The Preserve. One was the stone council ring which takes center stage in the park’s new Nature Maze. This area will be planted with native shrubs to form a fun and accessible pathway for exploration as well as a shady spot to gather and enjoy the sights in the adjacent oak savanna.  Work also began on the Entry Plaza with permeable pavers and stone seating. Funding for both these elements is provided in part through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources OSLAD program.

5/14/21 – Work began on the North Pond Overlook this week at The Preserve. In the future, visitors will be able to enjoy water’s edge views of the 5-acre pond and the many species of birds that are found there. At the north end of the pond, a view seating area is taking shape, carved into the hillside of a former golf green. The pond is a major feature in the landscape and The Preserve advisory committee sought to build in several ways to enjoy it. 

5/5/21 – Work started on the special amenities at The Preserve, construction of new connecting trails, and the north loop of the red trail reopened. The Sand Play Area amenity will feature a family-friendly picnic area where kids can climb molded turtle sculptures and sift in the sand while looking for turtle tracks and other “fossils.” New trails were completed that will provide additional loop options for park visitors. While the main park is closed for construction, designated trails remain open. Please remember to keep dogs leashed and be courteous of our neighbors.

4/20/21 – Due to the construction of connecting trails, a portion of the north loop of the red trail at The Preserve is closed.  Once the new access path is complete (anticipated within two weeks) the trail will be reopened.  For a map of the closed trail, click here

4/12/21 – Grading and initial planting around the North Pond shoreline is complete. Work has begun on the Connector Trail that will link The Preserve property on both sides of the Skokie River. Overlooks for the North Pond and Gateway Path (on the west side of the river) have been manufactured (off-site) and will be delivered for installation soon.

12/14/20 – A new path extension linking The Preserve to the existing north-south Highland Park Trail is now open.  This new connection gives users of the popular trail access to additional paths in The Preserve during construction. Final surfacing will be completed in spring along with other path improvements. Click here for a trail map. At the same time, crews are working on the North Pond overlook and shoreline restoration. Seeding of native plants around the shoreline will provide a buffer to help with water quality and additional habitat.

10/23/20 – Construction is expected to begin November 1, 2020!   When completed, The Preserve’s amenities will include improved pathways, a pond overlook, gardens, seating, play areas, signage and a restored north pond shoreline with native plantings and vegetated swales.  During construction, some paths will be closed.  Several looping trails will remain open to visitors, as will the North-South Bike Trail on the property’s east edge. Click here for a trail map.

9/22/20 – The Preserve took a major step forward as the Park District of Highland Park Board of Commissioners awarded a construction contract in the amount of $1,204,290 to Team REIL Inc. of Union IL, following a competitive bid process.  Construction is scheduled to begin in November.

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 powerpoint 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 the 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 into 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 the 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 on September 26.  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 in 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 turfgrass.  The course will be closed periodically during this work. Signs will be posted.


Amenities will include improved pathways, a pond overlook, gardens, seating, play areas, signage and a restored north pond shoreline with native plantings and vegetated swales.  Beginning November 1, there will be path closures due to construction.  Several looping trails will remain open as will the North-South bike trail on the property’s east side.  Funding for this project is provided in part by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. 

Q:  What’s in store?

A:  The Preserve 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:  Construction is anticipated to begin November 1 2020 with substantial completion in Fall 2021. Installation of native seeds is complete and restoration of the Highland Park Woods portion of the property is well underway.   

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 Preserve 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 and designated viewing areas.  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 Preserve, 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 Preserve 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 has worked 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 Preserve reserved for walking and leisure biking. We are hopeful 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!