By David A. F. Sweet
Steve Bent grew up on Lake Road next to a ravine. He spent his youth roaming its slopes and exploring other nearby ravines with friends.
“Childhood in the ravines was wonderful – peaceful, private, educational, challenging,” said Bent, who recalled how fun it was to play games with sling shots to defend a ravine from other boys similarly armed.
"The City has a vested interest in ravines given their role in stormwater management," says Jim Lockefeer, Assistant Public Works Director.
Abounding in Lake Forest, ravines – defined as deep, narrow gorges with steep sides – are delicate ecosystems that were created when glaciers retreated from the area more than 10,000 years ago. Rare flowers, such as witch hazel and bloodroot, grow there. Migratory birds, including the red-headed woodpecker, gather there. Fish swim in the shallow streams at the bottom.
Beyond their natural splendor, the 13 miles of ravines in Lake Forest are significant in another way: they convey water to the lake. In fact, the majority of stormwater that falls east of Green Bay Road will eventually travel through a ravine and into Lake Michigan. That helps reduce flooding in area homes.
“Without ravines, millions of dollars’ worth of storm sewers under the ground would be needed,” said Jim Lockefeer, Assistant Public Works Director. “The City has a vested interest in ravines given their role in stormwater management.”
Though 90 percent of ravines are considered private property (the ones adjacent to Forest Park and at the Cemetery are public), the City of Lake Forest is focusing on them more than ever before. Five years ago, the City brought in the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission to share insights on ravines. Through that collaboration process, City staff dove into Lake Forest’s ravines, ranking slopes and compiling other data.
Since then, every three years a college student with a background in engineering or environmental studies spends the summer walking through the whole ravine system on behalf of the City. The intern records data points, evaluates ravine slopes while noting erosion, registers if there’s a debris jam in the ravine bed and more.
The City has used that data to guide a Capital Improvement Project program to shore up the high-priority ravine areas around town. In the past three years, a $1 million restoration project was completed at Walden Ravine, along with a restoration project within the Rosemary Ravine. This summer, repair work is planned for ravines by McCormick Drive, Rockefeller Road and Loch Lane. Workers will fix infrastructure that will improve the flow of water from storm sewer pipes into the ravines. (You can view the status of these projects on the City’s construction project map at cityoflakeforest.com/ConstructionProjects.)
“During big storms, we don’t want stormwater jetting out of storm sewer pipes into ravine banks, which causes erosion,” said Lockefeer, who added that surrounding banks would be stabilized in the $800,000 project. “You’re washing away sediment that carries through the ravine and is discharged into the lake. That causes a water-quality issue.”
Even when water isn’t knocking soil to the bottom of ravines, erosion is a problem. The type of soil in a ravine can hasten erosion, which impacts buildings, sewer lines and yards.
About 300 homes in Lake Forest are adjacent to ravines. Often, workers in the Public Works Department’s Water & Sewer Section need to access storm sewers that exist within them.
“Managing the infrastructure in ravines can be a challenge,” Lockefeer said. “It’s not like a road you drive on where it’s obvious if there are potholes. Some of the items are hidden away.”
Lockefeer and others give tips to homeowners alongside ravines concerning best practices. One of these stakeholders is the City-led Environmental Sustainability Committee that lists responsible ravine management as a top priority and actively helps promote educational campaigns. City staff point out that pipes from lawns should discharge at the bottom of ravines to prevent erosion and explain that dumping leaves, grass clippings or mulch can cause obstacles in the waterbed.
“I’m always so impressed by residents wanting to do the right thing,” Lockefeer said.
For Bent, ravines have shaped not only his life but those of his family.
“Where I now live there is a ravine just to the north of our property, and my sons talk about how much they enjoyed playing in that ravine as kids,” he said. “Ravines are beautiful.”