CHICAGO — One of Chicago's most diverse wildlife preserves is being illegally damaged by motorcyclists.
Jeff Skrentny, a longtime volunteer at LaBagh Woods on the Northwest Side, has photographed motorcyclists riding through the woods' trails — and making their own — routinely since March.
"This is unfortunate, and [forest preserve officials] will be stepping up patrols to prevent this illegal activity from continuing," Lukidis said.
Skrentny is one of the leaders of a hundreds-strong volunteer group that is aiming to restore the woods with native plants. The motorcyclists destroy old trails, and the plants along them, while crushing other plant life in less-traveled areas when they make new trails.
Skrentny said he found a snapping turtle that had been run over by a motorcycle. The motorcycles' loud noise disturbs the hundred-plus species of birds and other wildlife that either live or travel through the woods, he said.
"These are forest preserves, not dirt bike trails," Skrentny said.
Skrentny has photographed motorcyclists of all ages, from kids to shirtless adults.
LaBagh is the home of animals found almost nowhere else in Chicago, including mink. Skrentny said he and other volunteers have recorded 187 bird species, including more than 45 that breed at LaBagh, plus 20 mammal species, 30 species of butterflies, 22 types of dragonflies, four turtle species and two types of snakes.
There are also 70 to 90 mushroom species and 200 to 300 native plant species, Skrentny said.
Lukidis said fines for illegal motorcycling can range from $75 to $500, plus court costs. The violator also can be held responsible for any damage to natural landscape and required to pay damages.
She said forest preserve police perform daily checks at LaBagh and all other Cook County preserves, but the organization depends on "Trail Watch" volunteers like Skrentny to inform them of illegal activities.
"It is important that the public help us in our effort to keep our local habitats in pristine condition," Lukidis said. "Paved trails are also not built with the intention of accommodating motorized vehicles. Trails are intended for hikers, bikers, walkers, joggers and those seeking rest and relaxation in local nature."
Skrentny said LaBagh is a place for nature, not for motorcycles.
"It is a place worth saving," he said. "It is not a place ... for selfish users unwilling to learn what beauty is at LaBagh."
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