CHICAGO | Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday created a committee of business and government officials who will work to implement the Millennium Reserve, a plan to enhance wetland and other open spaces around Lake Calumet and the Calumet River.
Quinn, who signed the order at the newly constructed visitor’s center at Wolf Lake near the Hegewisch neighborhood, said he supports the goals of the Millennium Reserve because the natural assets of Chicago’s Southeast Side should be bolstered for the common good.
“Our job is to do right by our children and our children’s children,” Quinn said. “We ought to have an ethic to preserve and advance our assets.”
Among those people serving on the committee are Aldermen John Pope, 10th Ward, and Anthony Beale, 9th Ward, Cook County Forest Preserve District leader Arnold Randall and Mike Kelly, of the Chicago Park District. Officials from companies such as ArcelorMittal USA, CSX Transportation and the Illinois International Port District also have members, as do entities such as the Field Museum, the Calumet Stewardship Initiative and the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.
The Millennium Reserve Steering Committee will submit a preliminary report to the governor within six months of its first meeting and will provide reports every six months thereafter. The steering committee will identify specific projects of regional significance, recommend major policy initiatives that could be pursued by the state of Illinois and partner organizations and identify potential funding sources for projects within the Millennium Reserve.
Quinn said he thinks businesses should show concern for the environment because it can help bolster the economy overall, citing $145 billion that he said was spent on recreation last year.
Also announced Friday were federal grants and other sources of funding to support projects that bolster the environment.
One such project involves $600,000 provided by federal Coastal Zone Management funds this year, which will be used to teach 5,000 young people from urban communities how to fish.
“We want to give them a sense of place, a connection to the outdoors that they might not feel,” said Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller, who said that even such a program benefits the economy. He said about 1.4 million Illinoisans who fish or hunt contribute about $2.5 billion to the state’s economy.
Among other projects will be the construction of new links in the Cal-Sag and Thorn Creek trails, along with funds for invasive species control at 15 different sites.
In all, about $6.8 million in state and local investments will be made during 2013 to bolster the goals of the Millennium Reserve, which when completed would be a 140,000-acre project from just south of downtown along Lake Michigan south to the Illinois/Indiana border, creating the largest open space area in the country.
John Rogner, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service official who previously worked for Illinois state government, said the origins of the Millennium Reserve project came from a desire by President Barack Obama to create more outdoor spaces for recreation.
Citing the potential for severe federal spending cuts in coming weeks, Rogner said, “They can sequester me away all they want, I will be here to advance the Millennium Reserve.”
Among those pleased with the effort was Pope, who said he’s glad the potential to bolster recreation in his ward has not been lost amid all the industry that has left pollution throughout the area.
“I’m grateful to have the asset of Wolf Lake in the 10th Ward,” he said, adding that he wants a combination of environmental and community activists to work with industry to better the community.
“That is what is necessary for this project to succeed,” Pope said.