To promote efforts to achieve excellence in preserving, improving and expanding the nature and quality of life in parts of Illinois, Chicago Wilderness recently recognized the Forest Preserve District of Will County for restoration efforts at Lockport Prairie East.
As such, the Forest Preserve District attained a gold accreditation at a special reception held July 27 at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Ralph Schultz, chief operating officer for the Forest Preserve District, said he feels honored to know they have achieved this distinction.
Lockport Prairie East occupies a 30-acre parcel south of Division Street and west of Canal Street in Lockport, and it was given to the Forest Preserve District by the Illinois Toll Highways Authority to replace land needed to build the Interstate 355 bridge though Keepataw Preserve in Lemont.
Chicago Wilderness’ Excellence in Ecological Restoration Accreditation program typically examines sites and what’s achieved, as well as the organization and how well they operate.
“In this case, we are and we have received a gold accreditation for two other sites: Sand Ridge Savanna and Hickory Creek Barrens nature preserves,” he said. “We received accreditation for [Lockport Prairie East,] and we’re consistent in our efforts.”
The gold accreditation tells them they’re on the right path with promoting biodiversity and serving as goods stewards of the district’s money, as well as meeting the standards set forth by Chicago Wilderness, Schultz said.
Chicago Wilderness typically examines measures used to restore land with areas of focus including prescribed burning, invasive species control and native seeding.
Schultz said by 2014, the preserve was in the midst of what he calls “management or enhancement,” which is a less intensive form of work.
When the Forest Preserve first acquired the land, it was degraded. There were remnant elements, and it was overtaken by invasive species.
Lockport Prairie East is adjacent to land owned by Lockport Township Park District, known as Dellwood Park West, and it, too, shared some of the same issues with invasive species.
The Forest Preserve and Lockport Township Park District formed an intergovernmental agreement in 2009, at which point they agreed to work together to restore the land.
“We worked with Lockport Township Park District to manage the land as one unit,” Schultz said. “We have biologists on staff to perform the work. Plants don’t know property and habitual lines, so when two entities work together, it’s a huge benefit.”
Restoration work began in 2011, and it was paid for using funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly Habitat Conservation Plan.
“There was a lot of clean up and removal of invasive species,” Schultz said. “Primarily, buckthorn was removed, and it had essentially shaded out the area causing the [native plants] to die off.”
At that point, the Forest Preserve District sought to address overfeeding and other issues.
“The site bounced back incredibly,” Schultz said. “The seeds from the [native plants] were still in the soil. The site responded well to the prescribed burn. We’d seen sedge meadow and leafy prairie clovers emerge. We found that the site was diverse. By applying a prescribed burn and invasive species control, we’re seeing improvement.”
Schultz said the reason native plants survive the prescribed burning they administer is simple. History shows that fires were common long ago in the area the nature preserve currently occupies thereby giving rise to the re-emergence of native plants.
The Forest Preserve intends to keep these places in tact and enhance them for future generations as a means of validating the work they do.