Highland, Illinois has a gem of a city park on the outskirts of town with Silver Lake Park, and I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up near it.
I recently had a conversation with someone who had been house shopping in the Highland area for months. He said he had wanted a house on a lake if possible and he mentioned he’d looked at a house at Silver Lake. He complained about the buffer zone around the lake, saying he couldn’t see the lake from the house. “What’s the point of having a house on a lake if you can’t see the lake from the house?” He thought they should get rid of that buffer or easement or whatever.
Wow. I grew up near Silver Lake and this idea appalled me. I knew the lake well, and if surrounded by houses, it would be ugly by comparison. So I told him that I am really glad they have that buffer. I am completely in favor of it. Thank goodness for the people that set the buffer in the first place.
Far more people use the lake than live in houses that border it! It is a very scenic natural setting, and a feather in the cap of a nice small town. Lots of people boat, kayak, fish, hunt waterfowl, use the park, and walk the trails. Some even just park there for a while to eat their lunch in the middle of a work day. Potentially anybody in the area can visit and benefit from a bit of the nature it has to offer.
A change to a lake surrounded not by trees but by houses and lawns would also appall the fishing community. Who wants to pull up their fishing boat to the back of someone’s house and back lawn? Every one of them would prefer the more natural setting.
Another lake I know comes to mind. This lake is surrounded by houses, not very scenic to me, and doesn’t seem to benefit the public at all. In fact I think the lake is private as well. A limited number of people that own houses there can have a water view and their own boat dock. As a result, when you’re on the lake, all you can see on the shore are backyards and the backs of houses. That is another way to go I guess, but it doesn’t seem to benefit anyone beyond the people that have house lots along the shore. Someone who wants to go fishing once a month either can’t or won’t want to go there. Nobody can walk a trail around part of the lake. Wildlife is far fewer because there is less for it there.
On top of that, the border around Silver Lake helps buffer the lake, which is the water supply of the city, from nearby farm runoff and sewage runoff from houses with septic tanks. Highland’s water supply has in the past had unacceptably high levels of agricultural products such as Atrazine. And with more houses going in nearby and no sanitation sewer, there will be more septic tanks leaching out into the watershed.
A Test for the Buffer
I lived near the park and have walked the trail many times before so I received a shock when one time I came up to a spot where the forest cover opened up on one side and gave way to bare backyards and new houses. One one side of the trail was a little bit of forest and the lake, and on the other were grassy, non-forested yards. The trail experience was greatly diminished and I was a bit upset. I did not expect to be walking near yards and big houses.
At first I believed they had gone way too far with the clearing. But on second guess, they may have just cut down all the trees as far as they could against the buffer. The buffer was not sufficient. I am not a fan of those homeowners or the subdivision developer since their houses and yards are harmful to the trail experience, the buffer, and everything that goes with it.
And I worry that this will happen again. I know that development constantly clears land across the country or world, but speaking to just this specific instance, more care should be taken. The current buffer should be widened for this reason because it is definitely not wide enough. As possibly more houses are added around the lake in the years ahead and more trees are cleared, development will increasingly damage Silver Lake Trail. It will give less natural value to the people who walk it. Also, that development will likely diminish scenic views from a boat on the lake. More houses would also reduce the wildlife support the area provides. Habitat loss is a fact of human development, but we can choose to limit its effect here.
Also, Oil Spill Danger
I’ll also point out in closing here that Silver Lake is also vulnerable to an oil pipeline spill from a pipeline to the north near Silver Creek just upstream of the lake. There has been an oil spill there before in 2015.
Pipeline spills more than 4,000 gallons of oil into Highland creek
Clean up continues at site of oil spill near Highland
Oil spill threatens Highland water