Ladd Arboretum, Evanston’s only nature preserve, covers more than 17 acres and includes a meadow garden, a stand of nut trees and a prairie restoration area. Special features of the Arboretum are the Cherry Tree Walk, the Rotary International Friendship Garden, the Women’s Terrace, the Aspegren Memorial Gazebo, Independence Knoll and the Grady Bird Sanctuary.  Hundreds of people visit the Arboretum every year just to appreciate these natural settings. 

The Evanston City Council has approved construction of an 8-foot-wide concrete path through the entire length of the Ladd Arboretum and an additional 5-foot-wide concrete sidewalk, claiming the need for an additional paved route for students to get to Haven and Kingsley Schools. The proposed paths add up to nearly an acre of paved surface area.

The Ladd Arboretum Committee opposes this plan. Our objective is to maintain the integrity of this nature preserve as the irreplaceable community resource it is. There has been a no-paving policy for the Arboretum upheld by the City and Ladd committee since the 1960s. Over the years, the Ladd Arboretum Committee and the Evanston Environmental Association (EEA) have raised large sums of money for the benefit of Ecology Center and Arboretum programs and improvements. 

The planned concrete path is likely to lead to further “improvements” that will forever compromise one of the last remaining accessible wildlife areas in Evanston. There is already an 8-foot-wide asphalt path on the other side of the channel that runs parallel to the Ladd Arboretum trail just about 200 feet away in Twiggs Park. That path is easily accessible to bikers and runners.

The presence of a large hard surface to better accommodate speeding bikers and runners conflicts with the purpose and use of the Arboretum. Currently, bird watchers have a quiet place to observe nesting and migratory species. Others just interested in contemplating a natural area are welcome there.  Each summer, many Evanston children attending day camp at the Ecology Center or visiting the Arboretum have a chance to explore, learn about and enjoy nature in a quiet setting. Natural places like the Arboretum are increasingly precious in urban areas and continually threatened with various types of development.

The concrete paving plan is also a waste of taxpayers’ money.  According to the information available to the committee, the cost of the path will be $980,000, including $580,000 from an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program grant and a match of $400,000 from the City of Evanston. It is our understanding that this project may be turned over to IDOT any day to start the bid process.  However it is unclear whether the process has included the necessary review and public involvement processes before irrevocable changes are made to this unique nature preserve.  Has City Council approved the changes to the grant that increases the City’s contribution from $145,000 to $400,000? 

The Ladd Arboretum Committee and EEA support less disruptive and less expensive improvements to the existing path, using more natural material.  A stabilized crushed granite path in the Arboretum could be used by both birders and walkers and is approved by the American Disability Act as a safe surface for wheelchairs and people who need a smooth, stable surface. Stabilized crushed granite was used as the path material in Phase One of the Ladd Arboretum Master Plan and has remained in excellent condition for several years without any maintenance. It is also the material used to construct the paths in Perkins Woods, Evanston’s only forest preserve.

If we are to be successful as a STAR community or a “Green City,” our decisions regarding the Ladd Arboretum nature preserve must be consistent with preserving this irreplaceable community resource. We hope that the Mayor and City Council can reach agreement to abandon the current proposal and support the integrity and continued protection of Ladd Arboretum as a nature preserve.  In the interim, please join us by contacting your alderman about this proposal, particularly in the Seventh Ward where the Arboretum is located, and voice your opposition to the proposed sidewalk and concrete paved path.

Mr. Smith is chair of the Ladd Arboretum Committee.