Chief forester leaves ‘green footprint’ on Lake County
Lake County Forest Preserves executive director Tom Hahn (left) of Mokena and Board Chairman Tim Dempsey of Hawthorn Woods take a tour of restoration and construction projects throughout the district. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 19, 2013 11:26AM
Tom Hahn, the Lake County Forest Preserve’s executive director who is heading into retirement, brought cheers and tears to his final meeting Tuesday, March 12.
“In 1999, you gave me a dream job: Purchase land and don’t stop until we tell you,” said Hahn, who served for 141/2 years with the district, nine as executive director, after leaving Openlands, the regional conservation association, for the forest preserve district.
“I would not trade a day of that experience. We’ve created a forest preserve with a bright future,” he said. “I feel pretty good about where I’m leaving the district — (the years) have flown by in a blink of an eye.”
“I’ve never met a bad piece of property, it’s just some are nicer than others,” he said, adding that he could not have done his job without his staff.
He also thanked the forest preserve board and citizens of Lake County for supporting land acquisition initiatives and bond referendums to provide the money for those purchases.
“You have altered the physical landscape by building greenways and preserving areas that needed preserving. Remember the mammals, birds, plants, even the green snake you are re-introducing, you are their representatives,” he said.
He came to the forest preserve to head up the Land Acquisition Department and then in 2005 moved into the top job. Hahn helped pass several bond referendums by majority margins, adding approximately 10,000 acres and 15 new preserves.
George Ranney, president and CEO of Metropolis Strategies, recalled how Hahn had known his family long before he worked for the forest preserve when Ryerson Woods was being formed 40 years ago. He said the more than 3,400 acres and 120 different transactions during Hahn’s time was remarkable. As was his work in getting an agreement last year for an alternate Route 53 plan to spare Liberty Prairie Reserve.
“This was made possible with his professional approach to private landowners. We thank him from the bottom of our hearts,” Ranney said.
John Rogner, recently the assistant director at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and now back again with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, knew Hahn from his Openlands days. He was always impressed with Hahn’s use of nonprofits and land trusts to mitigate wetlands.
He said it was no surprise that Hahn help target prime natural land in Lake County and that was why out of Illinois’ 483 endangered plant and animal species, 135 of them can be found in Lake County; half of those on forest preserve lands.
“That’s 28 percent right here. It’s not an accident,” he said, adding that many areas within the 15 newest preserves have Illinois State Nature Preserve status. “You’ve been an incredible steward of biodiversity,” Rogner said of Hahn.
Jerry Adelmann, executive director of Openlands said so many projects that Hahn worked on will have a lasting effect on future generations. “You’ve heard of carbon footprints, his green footprint is just remarkable,” he said, noting, “But clearly he had a board that wanted to do that.”
Ann Maine of Lincolnshire, forest preserve board president, said Hahn did some of his best work during executive sessions bringing a high level of professionalism to the proceedings, many of which took a long time. She said she gave him a priority list to work on the next few weeks before he leaves, so he better get to work on them.
“He was always looking at connections for animals, plants and people. His heart just wasn’t in the land, but looking out for our cultural resources,” she said, citing his work on the Greenbelt Forest Preserve in North Chicago and its recent expansion and the community farm in Waukegan.