An Ogle County official voiced his elation Tuesday over the state's decision last week to purchase a portion of the former Sinnissippi Forest Christmas tree farm southeast of Oregon.
"I think it's great for the Oregon area and the county," said Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker. "I think it shows the state realizes the value of this area. It's a great endorsement of our are that the state would spend the money."
The state has bought 64 acres of the former tree farm for $450,000 and is adding the parcel to Lowden-Miller State Forest.
The purchase, one of four land deals meant to boost public access to hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation, will provide access to the eastern part of the forest, Gov. Pat Quinn's office said in a news release Feb. 20.
The retail sales area on Lowden Road, which served as the centerpiece of the tree farm, was included in the purchase.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will use the buildings on the site for satellite offices and equipment storage, Director Marc Miller said.
"Sinnissippi Forest has already been a great asset for the area and this just enhances that," Gouker said. "It's a great area to preserve. Gov. Lowden believed in conservation and this will continue that."
The state forest is named for Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden, an advocate of reforestation who was responsible for planting 500,000 trees.
Warren Miller (no relation to Marc Miller) is a former owner of the Christmas tree business and Lowden's grandson.
“Twenty years ago, my late wife Nancy and I took great pleasure in the creation of Lowden-Miller State Forest, knowing that the people of Illinois would now be able to enjoy this magnificent part of the Rock River Valley,” said Miller. “When we reluctantly closed our Christmas tree operation after the 2009 season, it was always my hope that this tract could be added to the state forest, and I am extremely pleased that we’ve finally been able to do so.”
Named in recognition of the contributions to Illinois forestry by Miller’s parents and grandparents, Lowden-Miller State Forest, now encompassing more than 2,350 acres, was originally part of a large and diverse farming and forestry operation owned and operated by former Governor Frank O. Lowden and his wife, Florence Pullman Lowden.
Following Gov. Lowden’s death in 1943, their eldest daughter Florence and her husband, Dr. C. Phillip Miller, assumed responsibility for Sinnissippi Forest until the 1970s, when their sons Phillip and Warren became the third generation to oversee the property, which was the first officially-recognized Tree Farm in Illinois.
The land just acquired by IDNR has been in the family since its purchase by the Lowdens in 1899.
The state also bought a Pike County parcel for $1.8 million; Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge in McHenry County for $511,000, and Kickapoo State Recreation Area in Vermilion County for $25,000.
They were bought through the Illinois Open Lands Trust, which is funded by Quinn’s 2009 Illinois Jobs Now! capital program – money set aside for long-term infrastructure improvements but unavailable for state government operating expenses such as catching up on $9 billion in overdue bills.
The newly acquired parkland, once open, will have operating expenses, but IDNR Director Miller said a $2 increase in license plate fees that Quinn signed into law in December will produce as much as $25 million a year for park upkeep and repair when receipts start arriving in Springfield later this spring.