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A Century of Protecting Forest Preserves

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

It's with great pride we share, the year 2022 marks our 100 year anniversary! We have spent the last century protecting, conserving, enhancing and promoting Winnebago County's natural heritage for the environmental, educational, and recreational benefit of present and future generations. We have also established 44 Forest Preserves, 11,541 acres of land, and have proudly restored these natural areas. Let's take a journey to discover how exactly we got here and what our future plans are with this wonderful organization.

How it all Started

On October 3rd, 1922, the superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, Ransom Kennicott, urged the formation of a forest preserve district for Winnebago County before an address for the Rockford Kiwanis Club. Kennicot believed the citizens of Winnebago County owed it to their children and grandchildren to create such a district. Following this, 500 Winnebago county voters signed a petition urging for the creation of a Forest Preserve District that was submitted to Judge Robert K. Welsh on October 24th, 1922. This petition was then submitted to the electorate at the election of November 7, 1922. Luckily, 13,901 voted yes to the organization of a Forest Preserve District and Judge Welsh ordered the District duly organized on November 15th, 1922.

What Happened Next

Though the District was officially organized in 1922, it did not become a reality until 1924 when the first forest preserve was acquired, Hononegah Forest Preserve. Stephen Mack, the county's first permanent white settler, had been operating a trading post on the site prior to 1835. The property was originally named Hononeagh Park, named after Stephen Mack's Native American Wife, Hononegah, but was changed to Hononegah Forest Preserve after the district purchased it. Hononegah Park was a well-known privately owned picnic grounds and it's likely that it was a temporary campsite for many years. The presence of Native Americans at Hononegah Forest Preserve was well documented due to the discovery of Indian burials found. On July 10th, 1924 the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District purchased the initial 98.22 acres of land for the price of $22,000.

The following preserves were obtained after Hononegah Forest Preserve: Laona Heights Forest Preserve (1924), Kilbuck Bluffs Forest Preserve (1924), and Trailside Forest Preserve (1924). Within the first year of the organization being brought to life, the district had 3 beautiful preserves.

The Forest Preserves Today

After this past century, we've established a few core values that make us who we are. We believe in protecting and preserving natural lands, connecting people to nature, and educating the community on the benefits and history of the land. It has warmed our hearts to see people out enjoying the preserves and discovering all the wonders there is to nature. We've had many victories in the last 100 years, including a pandemic that brought people closer to the outdoors. The COVID-19 pandemic that rocked the US in 2020 was a scary and unsettling time. We were honored to see more individuals exploring our preserves and falling back in love with nature. We were able to provide our community with a safe a stressful-free environment that was highly sought out during 2020.

Our hope is to continue to make new and everlasting impressions on those who visit our preserves. We hope our patrons learn something new every time they step foot on natural land. Whether it's identifying a plant or discovering new spaces to explore. Nature gives us peace of mind and serenity. The only thing it takes away from us is our worries. In return, it nourishes us and loves us. We hope you love it back just as much. Thank you for exploring these sacred grounds and letting us be a part of your memories. Here's to more adventures and discovering the nature of life!

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