Site of the proposed West Ridge Nature Preserve. Handout

Site of the proposed West Ridge Nature Preserve. Handout (Handout / February 11, 2013)

Dozens of people showed up with extensive concerns at a forum tonight for a proposed West Ridge Nature Preserve on 20 acres of former Rosehill Cemetery property purchased by the city in 2011. 

The property is the largest lot purchased -- for $7.7 million -- by the city in decades.

The nature center proposal, which many in attendance Monday night insisted was more of a park plan, would include several walking paths, viewing stations, fishing stations and a place to enter the pond with canoes and kayaks. 

Some people at the forum said they feared bikes and boats would scare away nature. Far more of those at the forum at Amundsen High School auditorium were concerned that 25 percent of the trees in the center will be cut down. 

"We are looking at doing some tree removal," said Joel Baldin with Hitchcock Designs, the group that designed the park. 

Dead, hazardous or sick trees will be removed, as well as some healthy trees. But not many healthy ones will be removed, Baldin said. 

"It's a nature park," Baldin said.  "We're trying to preserve as many trees as we can."

Not long ago, a contractor for he cemetery removed trees on its property, but also accidentally removed trees on the city's land. 

"I sat and watched the trees at Rosehill get cut down and was sick about it," said Cindy Burgin, who attended the meeting. 

Bob Foster, senior project manager for the Chicago Park District, said that was not supposed to happen.

"They did cut into a portion of our site,"  said Ald. Patrick O'Connor, 40th. "They made it wider than we would have liked."

Others were afraid that entrances on North Western Avenue at West Thorndale Avenue and West Ardmore Avenue will be dangerous if stop lights aren't added. Jill Hayes with the Chicago Department of Transportation said the crosswalks will be improved. 

O'Connor said it's more likely that stoplight will get placed at those intersections with a nature center than without one. 

Andrew Strand, a Chicago resident, said at the forum that he's excited about the city's plans. He thinks it will increase property values in the areas. 

Adnan Hebib, who also lives near the property, is excited to be able to fish. 

"You can add some in there if you want," he told Foster after the forum.

The property would likely be open from dawn to dusk. 

Several people at the forum said they were also concerned about fishing, because fish are a major food source for wildlife. But O'Conner said if they restrict fishing, people will fish anyhow.

"When I was a preteen, we used to fish out there with bobby pins and fish guts," O'Connor said. 

O'Connor said that a significant effort will be made to disturb as little nature as possible, but now that it's public property, it will be different. 

"This is going to be a park that you can walk through, I can walk through," O'Connor said. "But it is going to change."

ehirst@tribune.com