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Deadline approaches for public comment on Fox Bluff plan

Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 4:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 11:47 p.m. CDT

Faced with unsanitary conditions, crowded slums and overwhelming poverty, Chicago’s charitable organizations in the early 1900s thought fresh air could be the solution.

Poor, urban children and their mothers stayed with families in small towns or on farms. Those programs eventually evolved into summer camps such as Camp Algonquin, according to documents provided by Metropolitan Family Services, formerly United Charities, the charitable organization that operated the camp for most of its history.

After renditions in Oak Park and Evanston, the camp settled on 20 acres, bought for $350 an acre, on the Fox River between Algonquin and Cary in May 1907. Camp Algonquin went through many changes over the years before its last operator, the YMCA of McHenry County, filed for bankruptcy in January 2011 and the camp was closed two months later.

The property owner, the McHenry County Conservation District, has been in discussions since then about what to do with the site, which includes the former campsite and the overall 279-acre Fox Bluff Conservation Area.

Four plans were submitted to the district’s board earlier this year, and based off comments from the board and the public, a final plan has been proposed.

The online public comment period on that plan ends Friday.

It proposes providing kayak and canoe access at the Fox River along with a paved trail leading to a pier, recognizing the Gillilan farmstead as a historical area, developing a pedestrian trail system, and incorporating some elements from the historical original plan for the 20 acres that make up Camp Algonquin.

That plan, dated February 1911, was designed by the well-regarded landscape architect Jens Jenson. It included a council ring, trails, a garden and native landscaping, all of which the final draft proposes incorporating.

The district also would coordinate with the McHenry County Historical Society to preserve historical artifacts and one of the buildings, a small counselors cabin built in the 1950s, said Kurt Begalka, the society’s administrator.

The other buildings – a collection of buildings dating to the early 1900s – would be demolished. Salvaged material would be used to create new shelters and trellis structures. Some preservationists would like to see more buildings preserved.

“What this boils down to is a philosophical discussion, what the people view the conversation district’s role as,” Begalka said. “Should the conservation district concern itself with historic structures beyond the area of trails and nature? That’s a decision that the district needs to come to an agreement on, and the public needs to let them know what they think about this.”

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