About this series: The Will County forest preserves mean many things to many people, including Forest Preserve District staff. Some of us enjoy the peace and tranquility of a particular preserve, while others among us enjoy the bustling feel of some of our more well-traveled trails. For some, the work we’ve done in the preserves is meaningful and fulfilling. “Preserves We Love” allows Forest Preserve staff to expound on their favorite preserve and why it’s special to them. In this edition, Colleen Novander, director of planning and land preservation, tells us why she loves Lake Chaminwood Preserve.
As employees of the Forest Preserve, we hold the responsibility to support our organizational mission of protecting and enhancing Will County’s natural and cultural resources for the benefit of current and future generations. To accomplish this mission, we become invested in our preserves and projects, developing relationships that can span decades. This is the story of one of my favorite relationships, with Lake Chaminwood Preserve.
It all began back in 2010, when I was tasked as a project manager at the Forest Preserve to develop the site for public use. The 120-acre site had been acquired by the Forest Preserve in 2006, having previously been owned by Channahon Materials Co. and operated as a quarry. At first glance, the site was a diamond in the rough, consumed with overgrown vegetation and random rock mounds and with remnants of its prior industrial use scattered throughout. In this condition, it was less than ideal for public use. However, once I got to the water’s edge and all of those features disappeared, I was taken back by the tranquility of the crisp blue lake and sounds of nature.
The potential was there, and with what started with a line on a map, the vision for Lake Chaminwood came together. The design embraced the history of the site while keeping the overall design minimal. It wasn’t meant to be overly extravagant or a destination that someone would drive an hour to get to, but a place that you can gather, whether it be your thoughts or in the company of others. And after a year or so in the design, engineering and the permitting phase, Lake Chaminwood was ready for construction.
Just as Lake Chaminwood hit a milestone by breaking ground with construction, I also hit a milestone in my personal life with finding out I was expecting my first child. For the next nine months, I would be onsite two to three times a week, waddling around while overseeing the construction and watching Lake Chaminwood progress. And much like a pregnancy, there were good and bad days, but with each day, we were getting closer to the end goal. We ran into issues throughout the construction — unanticipated obstacles that the site threw at us, delays with materials arriving and, of course, Mother Nature sometimes had a different plan. Lake Chaminwood was officially completed in the summer of 2012 while I was out on maternity leave, and my first time seeing the completed project was while carrying my little one in my arms.
Much like watching your child grow up and age, so do our preserves. Vegetation has filled in, the once smooth black asphalt now has lightened and cracked, the shelter and picnic tables have become faded and worn from use, rutting has formed along Shepley Road from overflow parking, and the new footpaths and the favorite spots of fishermen and fisherwomen have become evident. None of these features are necessarily negative; they are a sign of use. It is one of the biggest compliments we as staff can receive, the joy of people using our preserves.
Flash forward a decade, and my littlest one is not so little anymore — and neither is Lake Chaminwood. The popularity of site became evident over the years, and in 2020, planning for the expansion of Lake Chaminwood began, officially breaking ground in 2022. My relationship with Lake Chaminwood has evolved over the years as well, switching focus to the agreements occurring behind the scenes and handing off the responsibility to design and oversee the construction of the improvements to the Forest Preserve’s chief landscape architect and landscape architect. The site is in good hands with their oversight, and with the parking lot expansion and new accessible canoe launch complete, I eagerly await seeing the remaining improvements to Lake Chaminwood with its connection to the I&M State Trail Canal, something that has been in the works for over a decade.
Whenever I’m in the area, I still stop by Lake Chaminwood in a semi-parental way just to check in. It’s been one of the highlights of my career to be a part of its evolution from a quarry to a destination in the community. If you are in the Channahon, Minooka or Shorewood area (hence where the name came from, Cha-Min-wood), I encourage you to stop by the site and take a lap on the trail around the lake, cast in a line, launch a kayak, enjoy the recent preserve upgrades or just find a moment of Zen sitting on some of the quarry remnants.