Trails, taxes key, MCCD residents say in survey

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Conservation District residents put a high priority on hiking, walking and biking trails, but consider holding down property taxes the No. 1 issue facing the county.

That’s according to a community attitude and interest survey presented to trustees at the district’s meeting Thursday evening.

Randomly selected residents submitted mail-in surveys from Oct. 20 to Nov. 15. The conservation district collected additional data through online and paper surveys made available to the public.

Board Vice President Matthew Ewertowski of Crystal Lake pointed out it was a lengthy survey, which may have led people who tend to be “friends of the district” to respond more often.

The survey was designed to help the board decide how to prioritize projects and where it should go next.

Board Secretary Dave Brandt of Wonder Lake said he still needs to delve into the information, especially data broken down by ZIP codes.

“Renting facilities, I never would have thought people wanted to rent facilities,” Brandt said. “I still don’t know for what, weddings or picnics or whatever.

“One thing I found interesting was our most important parks were Glacial Park and the Hollows and the Prairie Trail, and that’s right in our most heavily urbanized area.”

The surveys also gave him some positive feedback.

The vast majority of respondents were positive about how the conservation district had spent the money it had raised through the 2007 bond referendum, but Brandt added that the board will have to shift its focus a little, from acquiring land to maintaining what it has.

While many of the conclusions were similar to surveys in the past, there were some differences.

Respondents, in both the 2012 survey and one conducted in 2007, generally placed the highest priority on maintaining existing sites, trails and facilities.

The number two priority, though, was protecting watersheds, which didn’t make the top four in 2007. That was the number three priority in 2000 and 2006.

In contrast, the number two priority in 2007 and the number one priority in 2006 was purchasing and protecting open space. While that priority was pushed down to the number five priority in 2012, 57 percent of respondents still considered it a high priority.

When the survey asked for the top issues facing the county, 35 percent of respondents said preserving open space and natural lands, an increase from 8 percent in 2006.

The top issue, by far, though, was holding down property taxes, with 75 percent of respondents picking it as one of their top three issues compared with 23 percent in 2006.

Residents also were significantly more concerned about controlling government spending, and economic growth and job creation than in the past

While a large majority, 73 percent, of respondents said they thought the conservation district was doing a good or excellent job at maintaining and improving existing open space and natural areas, they were neutral or split in a couple areas, including the number of horseback riding trails.

Just last week, district staff detailed some items they thought could relatively easily address requests by the McHenry County Horse Club. Those include adding another loop at Glacial Park and more parking at Rush Creek.

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