Lake County Forest Preserve District
Results of Attitude and Interest Study
by Andrew S. Kimmel
Lake County Forest Preserves are clean, safe, and popular
places to relax and enjoy nature, as rated by respondents to an
independent county-wide attitude and interest study.
Conducted by an independent consultant in 1992, the statistically valid survey shows the big picture of what Lake County
residents think about and want from their Forest Preserves.
"The Study gives us direction for future management of
our system's 18,600 acres and shows what types of recreation
and education opportunities people want in their Forest Preserves," said Colin L. McRae, Forest Preserve President. The
results also can serve as a guidepost for decisions about future
acquisition, development and funding, said McRae,
How the Survey was Conducted
An independent consultant, Becker Associates of Deerfield,
conducted the project. The county was divided into six zones
and questionnaires containing 28 items were mailed to randomly
selected households within each zone. Of the 8,400 surveys
mailed, 16% were returned. A response rate of 5 to 10% usually is considered very good according to national market research standards. A follow-up survey was conducted in order
for results to accurately reflect the county's demographic makeup. Results are considered statistically valid and representative of Lake County overall.
The Forest Preserve study complements the 1992 Land Use
Attitude survey conducted by the Lake County Regional Planning Commission, which analyzed open space preservation and
economic development issues. The Forest Preserve study divided the county into the same six zones used in the
Commission's survey so that regional breakdowns and comparisons would be possible.
Clean, Safe, and Popular
Forest Preserves received high marks for cleanliness and
safety, rated as excellent or satisfactory by 85.6% for cleanliness and 77.9% for safety. Most Lake County residents, about 74% of the respondents, have visited a Forest Preserve within
the past two years. For the most part, it is the lack of time that
prevents them from visiting more often.
People come to the Preserves primarily to walk, relax and
enjoy nature, though they also take part in a wide range of other
activities. Picnicking and bicycling are very popular pastimes,
as is visiting the nature center at Ryerson Woods near Deerfield.
Sports fields and playground are well-used, and golf courses
fishing ponds and the Lake County Museum are popular destinations.
When asked to evaluate 11 features of the Forest Preserves,
over 75% of respondents gave excellent or satisfactory ratings
to all 11 items. Cleanliness, safety, peacefulness, natural surroundings, trails, picnic areas, staff professionalism and parking all elicited very positive feedback. Recreational opportunities and the variety of facilities were also highly rated.
Though people tend to visit the Forest Preserve nearest to
their home, some favorite sites were identified. Van Patten
Woods near Wadsworth was the most visited Lake County Forest Preserve among respondents, followed by Wright Woods
near Mettawa and Ryerson Woods. Renovation of the well-used facilities at both Van Patten and Wright Woods is now
underway, and should be complete this fall. Ryerson Woods
attracts many people, in part, because it serves as the Forest
Preserve environmental education center.
When asked for direction on future emphases, people were
diverse in their responses but gave solid support to each option
presented. Highest priorities went to the expansion of hiking
and bicycling trails. This was followed by development of recreation facilities that are sustained through user fees rather than
tax dollars, such as campgrounds, picnic shelters and boat rentals. Expansion of self-guided trails, playgrounds and picnic
areas was also valued, as was improved access to undeveloped
Illinois Parks & Recreation March/April 1995 33
preservation. Many people arc pleased
to learn that in Lake County, 85% of the land bordering the
flood-prone Des Plaines River is Forest Preserve land. Recent
acquisitions along the Fox River also provide flood protection.
Protection of historic and archaeological sites received the largest increase in support from the 1988 survey.
Over half of all respondents felt that a future emphasis
should be placed on acquisition of more Forest Preserve land.
Of the seven different types of land the Forest Preserve District
could purchase to fulfill its purposes, respondents gave highest
priority to the preservation of natural areas. High priority was
also placed on protection of historical and archaeological sites.
Lands that provide flood control ranked third. Other land types,
in order of priority, are those that provide recreation opportunities. public access to lakes and rivers, farmland and golf courses.
When a similar question was asked in a 1988 Forest Preserve survey, the highest priority was given to flood control,
followed by natural area
Percent of Respondents Willing
to Support Funding Sources
Increased User Fee
tax of $5/yr per
tax of $10/yr per
Entrance or parking
fee at developed
Note: Additional revenue to be used, for operations, development of new
facilities, and land acquisition.
The study assessed support for various types of funding
for operations, land acquisition and development of new facilities. Most people do not want to pay entrance or parking fees.
Neither do they support the idea of a sales tax. But there was a
general willingness to support higher
user fees, as well as a small property tax
increase of $5 per year for an average
home (market value of $ 150,000). A $ 10
per year increase was considered too
Education and Information
According to survey results, one of
the main reasons people do not visit their
Preserves more often is because they
lack information about them. Maps and
guides were desired by most respondents. For a free subscription to the
Forest Preserves, interested people
should call (708)-367-6640. Regarding
education programs, workshops and programs on wildlife, native Americans, environmental issues and landscaping with
native plants were the most requested.
Programs on these topics and more are
offered in every season of the year at
Forest Preserves throughout Lake
County and at the Lake County Museum
near Wauconda. The Horizons newsletter carries a complete listing of programs
and special events.
Results at Work
Results from the Lake County Forest Preserves' Attitude & Interest Study have
been used for several important purposes since their release in April 1993.
Initially, a news release summarizing the study was distributed to area media
representatives, which resulted in much positive newspaper and radio coverage. Results were also incorporated into the Forest Preserve speakers bureau slide presentation, which is shown to community groups.
Next, the study results were used to help formulate the successful Lake County
Forest Preserve 1993 bond referendum issue. The study showed that Lake County
residents were supportive of a $5 per year property tax increase to fund land acquisition and facility development. Support dropped significantly at the $10 per year
figure, so the Forest Preserve Board knew that an increase of approximately $5 was
a good target.
The study also showed strong support for acquisition and preservation of natural areas and historic sites, and for creation of trails and general use revenue-generating facilities. The final mix of projects to be funded by the bond referendum and
the $30 million amount requested reflected these preferences.
Most recently, study results have been used in planning Forest Preserve environmental education and Lake County Museum program topics and schedules, and
in preparing detailed master plans for new Forest Preserve facilities. They have also
sparked continued expansion of Forest Preserve public information and marketing
efforts to increase public awareness and use of current Forest Preserve facilities and
To encourage use of results and prevent the study from being just another report
that gathers dust on a shelf, the District attempted to only ask for types of information that it knew it would use. This also had the side benefit of keeping the survey
form shorter for respondents. The study was distributed to those most likely to use
it, namely all Forest Preserve Commissioners and key staff members and volunteers.
It also is given to new employees, media representative and others, as appropriate.
Andrew S. Kimmel is the Director
of Environmental Education and Public
Affairs for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
34 Illinois Parks & Recreation March/April 1995
Lake County Forest Preserve District
Attitude and Interest Study
Summary of Findings
Current Use of Forest Preserves
74% of the respondents have visited a Forest Preserve within the
past two years
Usage varies among regions from 67% in the southeastern portion of the County to 83% in the central southern portion of the
Households of lower income or education are just as likely to use
Forest Preserves as households reporting a higher income or education.
47% - 54% of the respondents have visited four properties: Van
Patten Woods/Sterling Lake, Ryerson Conservation Area, Daniel
Wright Woods, Des Plaines River Trail
The top three properties vary considerably among the regions.
The minority subgroup's top properties were also among the top
priorities of either the county or the regions.
The top five activities most respondents engage in are hiking or
walking, observing nature, sitting and relaxing, attending a group
picnic and general picnicking.
Eleven features of the Forest Preserves such as natural surroundings, safety, cleanliness and parking are all ranked excellent or
satisfactory by most respondents,
The main reasons people do not visit the Forest Preserves most
often are not enough time and insufficient knowledge of the preserves.
Opinions Concerning Future Emphases
Most respondents agreed that expanding hiking trails and hiking
trails should be emphasized in the future by the Forest Preserve
Preserving natural areas was given high priority for future land
acquisition by 74% of the respondents.
Protecting historical or archaeological sites was given high priority for future land acquisition by 61% of the respondents.
Relative priorities for acquisition of different types of land have
not changed significantly since the 1988 survey except that protecting historical and archaeological sites is ranked a high priority by many more people in 1992 (61% -vs- 35% in 1988).
Funding of Current and Future Preserve Activities
Most respondents (77%) are unwilling to pay an entrance or parking fee.
Only 16% of the respondents correctly estimated that the average
house (market value of $150,000) in Lake County pays $50-$75
per year in annual property taxes to the Forest Preserve District.
Of the 16%, more than half thought the amount was "just right"
or "too little."
On average, the survey shows a willingness to support increased
user fees and an additional property tax of $5 per year per $ 150,000
assessed valuation, however considerable unwillingness to support these was also expressed.
Regarding willingness to pay a user fee for 23 activities and facilities, over half of the respondents were willing to pay for rental
of a small non-motorized boat, and over a third indicated a willingness to pay for fourteen of the activities or facilities.
Information and Education Programs
For almost all 19 program areas, a third of the respondents indicate they are either "very interested" or "interested" in attending
for a fee.
Friends, relatives and neighbors are the most commonly consulted
information sources when deciding how to spend leisure time,
however, newspapers, radio, TV and flyers are also often consulted.
People desire maps, guides, calendars, nature and historical information about the Forest Preserves.
Saturdays and Sundays are the most popular times for scheduling
activities, particularly in the afternoons.
People participate in Forest Preserve programs alone as well as
with a variety of family members, friends and groups. Most participate with different groupings at different times.
Survey respondents are generally representative of the County
with respect to education, income, household size, and length of
residency in Lake County, although with somewhat higher education and income, slightly smaller household sizes, and somewhat longer residency than the County 1990 Census figures.
Most survey respondents own their own homes.
An impressive 93% of the respondents are registered to vote.
An additional survey of ethnic minorities conducted in February
of 1993 generally confirms the results of the original survey with
respect to use of the Forest Preserves, futures emphases, funding
priorities, and educational programs.
Illinois Parks & Recreation March/April 1995 35