Member Spotlight: Ryan London, President, Lake Forest Open Lands Association (LFOLA)
Lake/Forest Lake Bluff Chamber: Tell us a little about the history and formation of LFOLA and what makes it so unique?
RL: Lake Forest Open Lands has been planning and implementing community-based conservation efforts for over 56 years, and like most land trusts nationally, we started as a true grass roots organization with a group of concerned citizens focused on preserving the rare habitats that make up our area. The prairies, savannas, ravines and streams that ultimately coalesced into our 8 (and 2 more in progress) Neighborhood Preserves are a defining feature of our community. We are truly honored to carry the vision of our founders who stepped in before these special places disappeared, and equally proud to steward the conservation ethic of a community that cares about the environment.
LF/LB: Is there anything you would like to share with the community about LFOLA that we may not know?
RL: With this year’s opening of our Greene Nature Preserve at McCormick Ravine, all residents in Lake Forest have a LFOLA preserve within walking distance and looking ahead, our efforts are focused on making a permanent trail connection to Lake Bluff along the Skokie River. Illinois has a proud legacy of initiating conservation at the ground floor, and organizations like LFOLA were incorporated not just years before the first national Earth Day celebration but also before landmark legislation like the Clean Air and Water Acts were passed.
Lake County has the has the highest density of rare and unique species found in the entire state. LFOLA dedicated the very first IL Nature Preserve in Lake Forest, the highest level of land protection offered in the State, a lengthy multi-year process, only available to the most critical habitats. We currently have 3 IL Nature Preserves and are in the process of dedicating two more in the coming years.
Another unknown first is that LFOLA was the first conservation land trust in Illinois to be nationally recognized and accredited by the Land Trust Alliance. The robust accreditation process affirms that a land trust operates with the highest ethical standards and can demonstrate the financial and operational competencies required by the accreditation commission. LFOLA achieved accreditation in 2009 and has successfully renewed its accreditation at each 5-year cycle since.
LF/LB: What is your vision for the future of LFOLA?
RL: Over eighty years ago conservationist Aldo Leopold summarized our work as:
“Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land”
In addition to ensuring that these exceptional spaces and wild places remain forever open for all to explore, we embrace the relational importance of conservation by strengthening links between these spaces and our visitors by providing hands-on learning programs and other events for the community.
My vision for the future of Lake Forest Open Lands is to continue our support of a community that cares about nature through our promotion of ecological literacy (a fancy way of saying Think Outside!). Where community members who work and live here experience balance in their lives. Balance that comes from welcoming access to nature, balance that comes from the resilience our natural spaces provide in regard to water quality, air quality and pollinators and balance from being a part of a community the carries nature in their hearts and minds by Thinking Outside.
LF/LB: How does LFOLA give back to the community?
RL: We celebrate Collaboration and Community as two of our core organizational values. Our team values our precious partnerships just as must as preserves we steward. Our engagement and stewardship staff are focused on connecting and engaging people with our historic natural landscapes. We believe this is central to our sense of place – a well-documented component of public health and subjective well-being. We call this community conservation.
We also believe that nature does not recognize borders like property lines and want to help our community members in their own yards, patios and neighborhood gardens. LFOLA’s ability to see Beyond the Trailhead is essential in our ability to achieve a conservation community.
Saturday October 28, 2023, is our annual Fall tree sale, where we offer hand-selected native species that will thrive locally at a deep discount. Check out our website and social media for opportunities to learn more about planting native species for wildlife and pollinator habitat, rain gardens, privacy screening and ravine erosion.
LF/LB: How can the community support LFOLA and get involved?
RL: Our preserves are open 365 days a year and we are able to keep them open entirely through support from membership and charitable donations, without needing any support from local tax dollars.
Our mantra of Think Outside, is not just a mindset, but also an experience folks achieve when they engage with us. Through our commitment to ensuring that all are welcome and able to fully participate in nature, we now have several accessible trails, and an electric track chair available to borrow for our non-accessible trails.
In addition to hiking our trails, community members are welcome to attend our weekly programs, events and volunteer opportunities which serve nature lovers of all ages. Our website and social media are the best places to register for these opportunities. We also custom tailor programs for schools, civic groups and our corporate partners so please don’t hesitate to reach with a specific need!
Lake Forest Open Lands is proud to celebrate our community’s commitment to nature and it is our privilege to ensure that future generations have the same savannas, prairies, ravines and streams to experience and explore. The staff, our board and our volunteers look forward to connecting and working with all who answer our call to celebrate these special places and keep them special!