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Chicago Wilderness Conservation Champion


Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

The Preserve at Oak Meadows

In 2017, Chicago Wilderness recognized individuals and groups doing outstanding work on behalf of the environment with its Force of Nature awards.

“The awards were given to recognize people and organizations whose environmental conservation, restoration, advocacy or educational activities extend above and beyond the ordinary,” said Cherie Fischer, chair of the Force of Nature committee.

One recipient was the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, which received a Force of Nature Game Changer Award for its innovative work to restore The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison.

The Forest Preserve District purchased the land in 1985. At the time, the property was known as the Elmhurst Golf Course, where famed golfer Ben Hogan once reigned. The Forest Preserve District soon renamed the site the Oak Meadows Golf Club.

As the surrounding landscape changed, the course became prone to flooding, often severe enough to close operations for several days. It became clear the flooding needed to be addressed, but how?

“At Oak Meadows, both the golf course and the surrounding natural areas were underdeveloped, which presented a dilemma,” said Forest Preserve District of DuPage County President Joseph Cantore. “Traditional thinking had always been to address one you must harm the other, but we asked the bold question, ‘Why not help both?’”

With this progressive mindset, the Forest Preserve District began a two-year effort to reconfigure the golf course and restore the surrounding habitat. Financial and planning assistance came from DuPage County Stormwater Management and the DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup; the River Prairie Group of the Sierra Club and other organizations provided community support.

By adding land from an adjoining 9-hole forest preserve course, the Forest Preserve District created a redesigned 18-hole course with fairways, greens and teeing areas covering just 15 percent of the total 288 acres. The revitalized golfing destination came with an updated name, too: The Preserve at Oak Meadows.

In harmony with recreational improvements, the transformation also enhanced the property’s natural areas. The project restored over a mile of Salt Creek by removing two dams and returning natural twists and turns to the artificially straightened channel. Crews removed hard-bank treatments once used to confine water to the creek and instead used 1,500 nonnative and invasive trees felled from other project areas to create a more natural bank-stabilization system. The new system limits erosion, provides habitat for fish and other aquatic animals, and allows the creek to again flow into the surrounding floodplain during storms.

With 25 acres of new wetlands and 43 acres of riparian habitat, the land’s stormwater-carrying capacity increased by 20 million gallons. Sixteen rain gardens and four vegetated swales intercept runoff, improving the quality of the water that makes its way to the river. Additionally, formerly manicured fairways and turf became 107 acres of upland prairie and oak savanna.

“A good golf course is fun, challenging and beautiful,” said Forest Preserve District Executive Director Ed Stevenson. “But a great golf course does all that plus improves the environment and helps the community. That’s what we’ve done at The Preserve.”

Other improvements included a connection to the regional Salt Creek Greenway Trail, making the revitalized habitats at The Preserve at Oak Meadows accessible to hikers, joggers and bikers as well as golfers.

“The Forest Preserve District is proud to be recognized by Chicago Wilderness,” said President Cantore. “The Force of Nature award is an affirmation not only of our agency’s forward thinking but also of the teamwork involved in transforming the answer to a ‘bold question’ into a physical reality.”

Details on The Preserve at Oak Meadows and ways to volunteer to help other Forest Preserve District restoration efforts are posted at