Editorial: Patience, good will help close river trail deal
Lake County Forest Preserve District officials soon will cut the ribbon on the long-awaited completion of one of the agency's most popular attractions that's been decades in the making.
The last segment of the Des Plaines River Trail is in place to finish the path that stretches 31.4 miles from Wadsworth to Wheeling.
That it has taken 35 years to get to this point, and that part of the holdup to close the final 1,500-foot gap was due to the long reluctance of a landowner to sell, makes the occasion both historic and a bit quirky.
But it also carries a certain charm -- patience and personal relationships trumped any temptation to call in the lawyers, especially at a time when politics is charged at all levels and suing often is the first option.
Forest district leaders bided their time until owner Gus Boznos was ready to sell, likely saving lots of taxpayer money that otherwise might have been spent in court to force a sale.
In 1963, the district started buying properties on either side of the river. Flood control was their main goal, but the project evolved into a plan to connect the pieces as a trail spanning the length of the county.
The Des Plaines River Trail has evolved into a path for walking, biking and jogging that encompasses 7,600 acres and 12 forest preserves. There were 142 land acquisitions over 53 years. Some of the early ones were contentious, but they grew less so in later years, officials said.
The most high-profile parcel involved the thin strip of land owned by Boznos east of his Par-King Skill Golf Course along Milwaukee Avenue in Lincolnshire. For two decades, forest district leaders made overtures in an attempt to persuade him to sell so the trail gap could be closed.
The gap certainly was an inconvenience to users, who would either turn back or head west to Milwaukee Avenue and stay on the busy road or a grassy stretch until the trail resumed.
Boznos had his reasons for not selling, ranging from concerns about trespassers to improvements he had made to the site. Despite the impasse, both sides reported the many years of talks were always cordial, never threatening or heavy-handed.
Finally, in 2014 Boznos said he was ready to sell. The 4.4 acres the county board purchased cost $220,000, with another $100,000 for ornamental fencing. Boznos gets an easement to access and maintain his property that is bisected by the path.
The reason he finally agreed to the deal: "I've mellowed," he once told the Daily Herald's Mick Zawislak.
It's clear the forest district's approach to obtaining the property needed to fill the trail gap won't work in every instance when land is needed for the public good. Human nature, money, and market conditions are among a host of factors in these equations.
But it's still worth knowing patience and personal relationships can be a workable option.