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Forest preserves to seek local input on Horizon Farms land

Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 9:14 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Barrington Area Conservation Trust)
The Cook County Forest Preserve District acquired nearly 400 acres of open space, wetlands and native bird habitat in Barrington Hills May 6. The property has been known for decades as Horizon Farms, at 311 Algonquin Road.
Caption
(Barrington Area Conservation Trust)
The sun sets over Horizon Farms property in Barrington Hills. BACT Executive Director Lisa Woolford said Oak trees present on the land are very important for preserving naturally occuring habitats in the Barrington area.
Caption
(Barrington Area Conservation Trust)
BACT Executive Director Lisa Woolford said Horizon Farms land, in Barrington Hills, is mostly equestrian. Buildings are prohibited on the land due to a 2003 conservation easement, Woolford said, but some "agricultural zones" have been established on the property to maintain horses.
Caption
(Cook County Forest Preserve District)
Cook County Forest Preserve District spokesman Don Parker said the newly acquired Horizon Farms land is "beautiful with open, rolling hills, pasture and hay field and many recreational areas to hike or bike."
Caption
(Cook County Forest Preserve District)
A conservation easement placed on the Horizon Farms land in Barrington Hills in 2003 prohibits native wetlands from ever been drained, according to BACT Executive Director Lisa Woolford who said the purpose of the easement is to keep Barrington area land "open and natural."

BARRINGTON HILLS – Barrington area naturalists have a whole lot of land at their fingertips now that the Forest Preserves District of Cook County has acquired hundreds of acres of open space following an August 2013 foreclosure at Horizon Farms in Barrington Hills.

The Cook County Circuit Court confirmed the $14.5 million sale of the 387.25-acre equestrian property to the district May 6. Amcore Bank filed a foreclosure request with the Cook County Circuit Court against Richard Cannon and Meryl Squires Cannon, who had bought the farm land for $19 million in 2006, according to court records.

Horizon Farms history dates back to 1983 when property was purchased by William McGinley and his family. When the land was sold to the Cannons, then-resident Robert McGinley retained 14 acres of the land and a home on the eastern part of the property, which he still owns today, according to the Barrington Area Conservation Trust.

The trust’s Executive Director Lisa Woolford said the trust has been “planning ahead” for such change in ownership ever since it and Conservation Foundation of Naperville placed a conservation easement on the property in 2003. The easement divided the property into a maximum of eight lots, rather than the 80 homes that could be developed under the village of Barrington Hills’ five-acre zoning requirements, according to the trust.

Since purchasing the property, the forest preserves district has announced its plan to fully assess the land for public safety and request public input for future use. District spokesman Don Parker said the district shares a similar goal with the trust.

“We will be doing habitat restoration and most likely working with local conservation groups,” Parker said.

Parker said the land is “beautiful with open, rolling hills, pasture and hay fields, and many recreational areas to hike or bike.”

Hiking or biking would be allowed under the terms of the easement, Woolford said, but athletic fields, golf courses, and buildings, “or any other type of structure” would be prohibited.

Woolford said she is proud of the trust’s preservation efforts at Horizon Farms, adding she is looking forward to meeting with the Forest Preserves District to discuss future plans.

“The forest preserves have always shown a great history of land stewardship,” Woolford said. “It’s great that the land is still here. The Cannons maintained it well and I know the forest preserves will continue to place priority on preservation.”

Woolford said the trust has “no specific recommendations” for the Forest Preserves District at this point, aside from keeping the space “open and natural.”

The trust has been stressing that area residents preserve and plan oak trees, which are present on the acquired land. Research conducted by the McHenry County Conservation District in 2005 showed oak woodlands had declined by 87 percent in less than 200 years.

A grassland bird habitat that naturally occurs on the property will continue to be beneficial to the area as well, Woolford said, since many of these bird populations are in decline.

The Forest Preserves District now owns 69,123 acres of land with a goal of reaching its statutory limit of 75,000 acres by 2022, according the district’s website. Parker said the true goal is to raise the statutory limit to 90,000 acres as part of an upcoming century development plan.

Parker said the Cannons have been talking about appealing the Cook County Circuit Court’s decision, but the forest preserves district is “confident that the acquisition is final.”

No future court dates have been set to his knowledge, Parker said, although a “hearing for a motion to wave a bond requirement for a court appeal may happen in the next few weeks.”

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