Cook Co. forests looking for volunteer trail watchers

OAK FOREST People are being asked to volunteer as trail watchers and to report problems they see to the forest preserve police.

Eleven percent of the land in Cook County is forest preserve, where 100 officers patrol more than 300 miles of trails. Now the forest preserve police force is asking for help.

On Thursday, county officials announced the launch of a new trail watch program, where regular citizens who use the trails will serve as additional eyes and ears for the police.

"If they see anything strange, a tree down, anything that could be a safety hazard or any individuals on the trail don't look like they belong there," said John Palcu, Asst. Chief of Police, Cook Co. Forest Preserve Police Dept.

The new "trail watchers" will wear distinctive vests or t-shirts. They'll be given Nextels and will commit to two hours a week, which can be during their regular run or walk. They will not be expected to enforce rules or engage suspicious people.

"All we're going to ask them to do is call the police. We don't want them to engage in any type of confrontation with anyone," Palcu said.

Many people out at Yankee Woods in Oak Forest Thursday seemed enthusiastic about the new program. One man said he'll even consider signing up.

"Great idea, I'm an ex fireman, people get hurt, I'd like to help," said George Johnson.

"I think it would help. You have people out here that come out to do harm. You have more protection if everyone is keeping an eye on one another," Mathew Andriola said.

Others say they appreciate the idea and hope the program is a success but are concerned it won't make much of a difference.

"People strike when there's very few walkers here. That 's when they strike, so I don't know that the citizens watch will prove useful," Jan Walker said.

You must be at least 17 years old to volunteer for the program.

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