Lake County, Illinois

Lake County supports Illinois’ richest assortment of plants and wildlife, and greatest number of rare species. Offering a coastline on one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, it also features an uncommon number of oak groves, glacial lakes, streams, prairies, wetlands and rare kinds of natural areas.

Thus, Lake County is one of Openlands’ four priority landscapes. We have a long history of working here to protect the land and engage people in conservation. Partnerships are a hallmark of our work. For instance, following years of successful collaboration, Conserve Lake County merged into Openlands in 2018. We regularly work with others at the local, regional, state and national levels.

By 2023, Openlands will inspire many residents across Lake County to manage their properties as healthy habitats for plants, birds, butterflies, and other native species. We will showcase models of healthy and gorgeous landscapes and invite visitors from across the region to experience the ravines and bluffs of the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. We will engage thousands of people in caring for and protecting the lands they love in ways that protect their investment in this rich tapestry of blue and green.

See below for more information on our Lake County Programs.

Land Preservation

We’re working with landowners, the Forest Preserve District and others toward the goal of preserving at least 60,000 acres by 2030. Openlands holds conservation easements on 24 properties and owns several parcels. Nationally accredited, we steward each of these under the rigorous standards of the Land Trust Alliance.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Treat yourself to a respite along Lake Michigan’s fabulous coastline. Our 77-acre nature preserve in Highland Park offers miles of bluff, shoreline and ravine trails for hiking, bicycling and birdwatching. Unique art installations add deeper dimensions to your outing.

School Programs

We annually work with hundreds of school children through our award-winning classes such as Eco-Explorations and Birds in my Neighborhood. Field trips are supported by in-classroom science, social studies, and writing activities. Trained volunteers strengthen our work.

Native Tree and Plant Sale

To help people care for their landscapes in ways that reflect their values, we sell the native trees, shrubs and flowers rarely found in garden centers. Well-adapted to our climate and soils, many plants we offer absorb large amounts of rainwater and carbon and meet the needs of our declining songbirds and butterflies. Look for our sales in spring and fall.

Liberty Prairie Reserve

In the heart of Lake County is a 6,000-acre area where more than half the land is permanently protected as open space. Trails wind through nature preserves and farmland and connect schools, train stations, and local businesses. Openlands has worked on this for over 30 years. We own land and hold conservation easements on many acres here.


Openlands brings its strength against efforts that threaten open space and quality of life in the region. Transportation is a pressing issue, and we remain engaged in developing beneficial solutions to the Route 53/Tri-County Access Project.

Climate Change and Other Advocacy

We care deeply about quality of life in this region. Our policy and climate change action teams work locally, regionally and nationally on diverse efforts that range from wrongful tree-cutting and carbon sequestration to endangered species and sustainable farming.

Lake Michigan and Clean Water

To protect Lake Michigan for all who depend on it, Openlands works with many communities and agencies on stewardship and planning. Also, our paddling program in Zion, Waukegan and North Chicago, and our Lakeshore Preserve in Highland Park are increasing the number of people who can enjoy and advocate for the lake.

Conservation@Home: Beautiful Landscapes

Openlands provides the region’s popular Conservation@Home service to Lake County property owners. Through ecological landscape consultations and related support, people can complete meaningful projects that help keep Lake County healthy and vibrant.

Waukegan Greenscape Project

A new grant allows 100 qualifying Waukegan homes to have a beautiful tree planted in the front yard free! 50 more are being planted in public spaces.