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Get outside and get in on the good times

If you love fresh air, the South and Southwest suburbs have thousands of acres and miles to keep any outdoor enthusiast busy.

While the new big box store or strip mall can sometimes make it feel like there are buildings closing in on all sides, these suburbs have a long standing commitment to preserving open space.

The Village of Orland Park is adjacent to more than 15,000 acres of forest preserves and oversees1,200 acres of parks and recreation space. The village has pledged their commitment to "protect and enhance the natural heritage." Similarly Oak Lawn Park District says it is "devoted to preserving open space and establishing beautiful parks and facilities."

This commitment is evident when you survey throughout the Southland. There are no shortage of parks, paths, trails, waterways, golf courses, preserves, wetlands and prairies.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County has a rich history of preserving land and it is evidenced in places like the Tinley Creek Division with more than three lakes, four wooded areas and a natural spring. Turtlehead Lake is among the jewels of open space.

The Forest Preserve District of Will County offers more than 17 recreational activities in its preserves. Messenger Woods in Homer Glen was the first preserve in 1930 with 144 acres and it now makes up 444 of the district's total 22,000 acres of open space.

While hiking and biking are extremely popular, there are opportunities for horseback riding, model-aircraft flying, picnics, wildlife watching, fishing, boating, camping, golfing and sledding.

Check out the websites and to find out more of what the forest preserve districts have to offer and check out special events and activities held throughout the year.

Go on a Wild Edibles hike near Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont and learn how people gathered food before there were grocery stores or bring your fishing gear to Monee Reservoir for one of the Midnight Madness events where the lake is open until midnight when the air is cool and the fish are biting.

If you are dedicated to preserving the environment there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer for clean up and restoration work days.

In addition to the forest preserves many towns and cities are dedicated to preservation as well. Homer Glen's mission includes developing community and nature in harmony. It has a conservation ordinance that requires developers of residential subdivisions to set aside 20 to 50 percent of its land as public open space. Tinley Park Park District oversees more than 40 parks and 33 ball fields. Some of them, like Lockport Township Park District continue to add new parks as the area continues to grow.

In addition to parks and open land, park districts also have any number of outdoor offerings including splash parks, swimming pools and aquatic parks. There are plenty of places to fly a kite or search for frogs in wetlands.

The Southland is home to many miles of trails through the forest preserves, but many park districts and villages offer their own trails, bike paths and loops to get around town and get in touch with nature.

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