Jens Jensen Preserve

Posted on August 8, 2022

by Isaac Smith

Everyone is entitled to a home where the sun, the stars, open fields, giant trees, and smiling flowers are free to teach an undisturbed lesson of life.
-Jens Jensen

In 2015, Chikaming Open Lands named a nature preserve after a man named Jens Jensen. Outside of the world of landscape architecture, Jens Jensen is a relatively unknown name. Jensen’s work designing parks revolutionized the way we think about native species and helped define the North American style of parks. Further, his dedication to conservation has helped protect hundreds of acres of land so they can continue to be enjoyed in their natural state. 

In 1884, a 24 year old Jens Jensen left his homeland of Denmark and set sail across the Atlantic. He ended up in Chicago as a laborer in the city's western parks. Jensen quickly rose up the ranks and in 1905 he was promoted to the superintendent and landscape architect of Chicago’s Western Parks District. Jensen most notably re-designed Garfield, Humboldt, and Columbus Parks to incorporate more native ecological features such as prairie flowers and grasses, and ‘wetland gardens’. The park style of the time was classical and manicured; thus, Jensen’s focus on native species was unusual and helped set his parks apart. The landscape architect’s passion for parks was only rivaled by his passion for conservation. To him, the two endeavors were inseparable. In the spirit of conservation, Jensen helped found The Friends of Our Native Landscape and The Prairie Club. Together with these two organizations and his work with the City of Chicago, Jensen helped protect a number of nature preserves, most prominently Cook County Forest Preserve and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. 

The Sawyer preserve by his name came into existence through a successful crowdfunding effort by Chikaming Open Lands. COL entered an agreement with the former property owners to raise half of the $265,000 purchase value. They raised half that value through grant money from The Pokagon Fund and private donations, the other half was raised via the Save the Trails campaign. In total, 160 individual donors helped make the preserve possible. One of these contributors was The Prairie Club who proposed the preserve be named after one of their founding members: Jens Jensen. Jensen received the highest number of votes in the preserve naming contest. As such, Jens Jensen Preserve was born.