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County Group Glimpses an Even Greener Tomorrow

McHenry County Green Drinks Group gathers to learn about plans for green infrastructure.

While sipping Goose Island’s Green Line beer and tasting vegan carrot soup, attendees at the April 6 Green Drinks group heard about current green infrastructure projects in McHenry County as well as those on the horizon.

Green Drinks is an international event in which people working on, or just interested in, environmental issues gather for informal meetings.

McHenry County Green Drinks is held monthly at , a well-suited venue, as the restaurant has become known for its sustainable menu, which incorporates locally grown, organic foods. Duke’s even has its own vegetable garden hosted in the backyard of one the restaurant’s patrons, said Zak Dolezal, chef.

Dennis Dreher, a natural resource engineer and resident of Bull Valley, introduced the Chicago Wilderness Green Infrastructure Vision (GIV). He said Chicago Wilderness estimates there are 1.8 million acres that could potentially be protected and preserved in the metropolitan area that runs from southeast Wisconsin to northwest Indiana.

Dreher said the GIV was inspired by the work of city planner Daniel Burnham, who way back in 1909 created a framework for Chicago that included a network of forest preserve districts and greenways.

“Daniel Burnham believed nature and humans need each other. That was a progressive view in 1909,” said Dreher.

The GIV is a guideline for how to live among natural areas in a sustainable and mutually beneficial way by using tools such as conservation development, conservation easements, and thoughtful land use planning, according to the Chicago Wilderness website.

Dreher stressed that green infrastructure can happen on a small backyard scale, as well as in neighborhoods, municipalities and county-wide plans. Some examples of green infrastructure efforts include: continuing land acquisition, expanded restoration, greenway connections, private conservation easements, conservation developments and farmland preservation.

Dreher served as chairman of the McHenry County 2030 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in April 2010.

“The McHenry 2030 plan has an extensive green network, with floodplains, wetlands and McHenry County Conservation properties,” Dreher said. He added that the plan is integrated with municipalities.

Some green efforts noted by Dreher include rain gardens and bioswales in parking lots. These landscape features capture and filter rainwater, rather than allowing the water to just runoff.

There are many examples of sustainable development already happening in the county. Examples, noted by Dreher include:

  • The Sanctuary of Bull Valley is a conservation development with natural landscaping.
  • McHenry County was a leader with the Conservation Design Ordinance, said Dreher. Approved in 2008, the ordinance was designed to protect valuable environmental resources, and to enhance community character.
  • Other World Computing corporate center in Woodstock is the first technology manufacturer/distributor in the U.S. to become entirely operated by wind power. The site also includes bioswales and permeable paving, which absorb water and recharge water.  

Elizabeth Maxwell, Crystal Lake city planner, spoke about the city’s green infrastructure plans. She said the city was contacted by Chicago Wilderness and has been working with environmental groups.

Maxwell said the planning department has mapped out all the city’s natural resources.

“Now we know where everything is. We can see where active recreation trails need to be located ... where can we build in gaps so animals can get from stream to prairies... "  Maxwell said.

She said it’s possible now for everyone from developers to park district to see where the important natural features are located and to use that knowledge in planning.

“This is important to the city; it’s a smart way to grow,” Maxwell said.

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