• David A.F. Sweet

Three Questions About McCormick Ravine with John Sentell

By David A. F. Sweet

Lake Forest Open Lands is working on opening its first preserve by Lake Michigan on a 61-acre strip that abuts the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. The organization has earmarked millions of dollars for improvements at what is known as the Jean and John Greene Nature Preserve at McCormick Ravine.


John Sentell, president and chief executive officer of the organization -- which manages more than 800 acres of space around Lake Forest -- notes that oak trees in the ravine go back to the 1700s. “It’s the finest ravine on the lake shore,” he says.

When do you expect the Jean and John Greene Nature Preserve at McCormick Ravine to officially open?

Planning and investment are continuing. We know the public is excited for its opening, which is why we host periodic public hikes to give the community a glimpse. It’s truly spectacular.

"The investment of over 100,000 plants has revegetated many slopes that had become bare," says Lake Forest Open Lands' President and CEO John Sentell of McCormick Ravine.

Creating a nature preserve at this site is a highly complex endeavor to not only restore habitat but to install the new trails, bridges and infrastructure to make a great user experience. McCormick will be open to the public after the preserve infrastructure is installed, and that is dependent on many factors, including weather, habitat conditions and contractor availability. How has Lake Forest Open Lands been improving the ravine?

Through our long-standing partnerships with groups like the Lake Forest Garden Club, Lake Forest Open Lands has been involved with the habitat restoration and monitoring at McCormick for more than 40 years. It was our intimate knowledge of the site’s potential that allowed us to take advantage of the multi-million-dollar restoration opportunity to partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Throughout the restoration project, we have been pleased to see improvement of the habitat in McCormick. The results of substantial canopy management have resulted in a notable increase in spring ephemerals and other woodland plant species. And the investment of over 100,000 plants has revegetated many slopes that had become bare. Though McCormick’s resiliency has shown its strength through the response to the restoration, we are engaging conservation scientists to study several rare species that we have identified as particularly susceptible to changes in our climate. In particular, we have worked with the labs at both Northwestern University and Roosevelt University to sample the DNA of our rarest plants to determine how best to manage, in some cases, species that only grow in McCormick Ravine.

What challenges have you faced at the ravine?

Of course, the high-water levels of Lake Michigan have impacted the shoreline substantially. While a natural process for the ravine and lake shore, it has created slumping on the bluffs and shoaled in the stream bed. And last year, our McCormick property experienced an unexpected wildland fire that was started by an undetermined cause – not intentional. With dry conditions and years of natural fuel on the forest floor, it was a concerning situation. Lake Forest Open Lands’ land management team sprung into immediate action to create fire breaks and, with the assistance of the Lake Forest Fire Department, help guide professionals from nearly all the fire companies throughout our county to extinguish the blaze and limit damage. We are pleased to see much of the flora and fauna return this spring after this fire. It’s just another example of the resiliency of nature.

Another challenge with McCormick traditionally has been access. This is a challenging site to plan infrastructure improvements that are accessible, resilient and complementary to McCormick’s values that our community have loved for generations. We assembled a team of six different designers and engineers to come up with a sustainable and exciting design that will allow us to make McCormick more accessible than ever before.