JOLIET – The Forest Preserve District of Will County is cracking down on property owners who illegally use the district’s public land for personal storage, composting, or as a spot to dispose of yard waste.
In one instance, a Homer Glen resident even built a wooden pier on the district’s adjacent land and erected a “No Trespassing” sign, said Marcy DeMauro, the forest preserve district’s executive director.
The district surveyed boundaries along 12 of its 82 preserves this spring. Staff found 214 encroachments, most of which were simply homeowners mowing the land, while others dumped trash, or built permanent structures, gardens or fencing.
Letters were sent out last month to owners asking that they remove items within 45 days and comply with the district’s policies. In instances where property owners were mowing the district’s land, the letters request that they immediately discontinue because mowing has an impact on vegetation and wildlife habitats.
However, the 45-day deadline for property owners currently mowing will be extended until board members can take a closer look at the policies presented Thursday by the district.
The extension was agreed upon following complaints heard at Thursday’s board meeting, DeMauro said.
“Once we started getting feedback from those residents, we realized that this was something we’d have to look at more closely with respect to our mowing schedule,” DeMauro said.
One resident raised concerns about how often vegetation along his property will be mowed, noting that at one time the district only mowed boundaries twice a year.
“The problem I’ve got with it is, how often is it going to be cut?” one resident said. “Right now, we’ve been cutting it for 18 years and there hasn’t been any problems at all.”
Board member Reed Bible, D-Plainfield, noted there’s the issue of liability.
“We kind of live in a litigious society these days,” he said, noting the forest preserve district would be liable if someone was injured on the land.
The board voted on Thursday to send the matter to its operations committee for further review. It will be taken up at the committee’s July 2 meeting.
In the meantime, the district staff will work with those who may need more time getting rid of permanent structures, DeMauro said. But property owners who are encroaching on the district’s land with minor violations must abide by the established deadline, she said.
Property owners with questions are encouraged to contact the Forest Preserve District of Will County. The district will survey the remaining property boundaries for encroachment violations over the next few years, DeMauro said.