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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.

Future Priorities

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 Preserves.


Illinois Parks & Recreation • March/April 1995 • 33

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
Funding Source Average
Increased User Fee 3.4 21% 36% 18% 13% 12%
Additional property
tax of $5/yr per
$150,000 valuation
3.4 30% 27% 13% 10% 20%
Additional property
tax of $10/yr per
$150,000 valuation
2.9 21% 17% 17% 18% 28%
Entrance or parking
fee at developed
2.8 13% 22% 17% 24% 24%
Sales tax 2.3 5% 13% 19% 30% 33%

Note: Additional revenue to be used, for operations, development of new
facilities, and land acquisition.

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.

Funding Options

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 high.

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 services.

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 County.

‡ 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 District.

‡ 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

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