Timber Trails sold to developers planning to remove golf course
LaGRANGE, Ill -- It was a beautiful evening. The air was clear, the moon was nearly full, and in the last light of sunset you could see the silhouettes of the towering trees at Timber Trails Country Club.
But on this night, there was also sadness. Some 200 people who had been actively trying to keep Timber Trails from being sold to developers were gathered across the street on the lawn of a homeowner preparing for a candlelight vigil in honor of the land on which Timber Trails sits.
Twenty-four hours later an auction would be held and the future of Timber Trails Country Club would go in a very different direction.
"We always expected this to be difficult," said Ellen Raymond, leader of the group Save the Timber, an organization formed to galvanize support and keep the public facility open, if not as a golf course, at least as a park or part of the local forest preserve district.
"It's beautiful land. There's a tree I can't even get my arms around. These are probably the oldest oaks in the entire area."
Timber Trails' 105-acres have nearly 1,000 trees on them. Many of the trees are old-growth oaks that have been standing for 300 years. The Illinois Audubon Society has designated the golf course an Audubon Sanctuary and has documented over 130 species of bird on the property. Fox, deer, coyote, and other animals are regularly seen on the golf course.
"I've golfed at this course many times," said Josh Mulford, a15-year resident of the area. "Keeping the wildlife in the area is important. And for generations after me they should be able to come here and experience the same things I have on this course. It's definitely about nature, but that's a big part of golf."
The 18-hole course was built in 1929 on the site of a former farm and one-time Potawatomi Indian campground. It also is one of the last open spaces of land in heavily developed and populated Cook County, the same county where the city of Chicago sits.
But Timber Trails' owners, who have said little about the sale publicly, have apparently had enough of the golf business and want to cash-in on a highly desirable piece of property.
Geoffrey Anderson, son of the principal private owner, represented the family at the auction sale and told the Chicago Tribune he was satisfied with the $45 million final bid made by a local residential developer, Dartmoor Homes.
"I think they got a nice piece of property for a nice price," he said. "I think everybody should be happy."
He was probably right about someone being happy. The winning bid was three times the minimum set by the auction company. But everyone happy? Definitely not.
"We are all citizens of the world, and each one of us, no matter where we are, when we see something that needs to be protected and saved, we are obligated as human beings to do that," said Joseph Standing Bear of the Midwest Soarring Foundation, a non-profit group that works to protect Native American sacred sites and ancestral remains.
Standing Bear led the prayers and speeches at the candlelight vigil.
"I've seen this place, I've walked the land, I feel the energy that comes it, and I respect the need for the community to have open space."
The unusual mix of golfers, preservationists, environmentalists and Native Americans has made the fight to save Timber Trails a unique one. And Raymond is trying to use the diversity of the group as an advantage.
"The fight encompasses many different perspectives. We think that's a good thing," she said. "We all want to preserve the land, but we all want it for different reasons. The golfers, especially, have an emotional attachment to the course."
Officials at Dartmoor Homes haven't said what the plans are for the property, but have suggested a development of up to 200 single-family homes. Currently there are no plans for keeping some of the acreage open for golf or park land. Ironically, one of the losing bids was rumored to include plans for preserving nine holes of the golf course.
"We don't see the auction as a deadline," says Raymond. "We are continuing to pursue other angles including talking to an attorney who works with Native American issue."
As for Timber Trails at the moment? Golfers continue to make their tee times and play what apparently will be their final rounds on one of the Chicago area's more popular, and beautiful golf courses.
The sale of Timber Trails is scheduled to formally close in mid-November.
October 5, 2004