Following Restoration, South Cook Forest Preserves Have Become Birding Hotspots

Two forest preserves in southern Cook County, Bartel Grassland and Tinley Creek Wetlands, have proven themselves to be phenomenal destinations for birding in the Chicago region — and that is entirely due to years of successful restoration at the two sites.

Restoration is the process of returning the land to a healthy state for nature, wildlife, and people. The two forest preserves are across the street from one another, and Openlands has managed the restoration of these sites since 2008 and continue to as part of the Forest Preserve’s Next Century Conservation Plan. By identifying and restoring conservation areas in proximity to one another, we create the habitat on the scale needed for wildlife to thrive.

The landscapes of the Chicago region are particularly important for migrating wildlife and bird species. Forests, grasslands, wetlands, and open water provide stopover points for birds during their semi-annual journeys that, for some species, span across continents and hemispheres. The Great Lakes provide an important bridge between two migratory routes, the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, which help bird species as they move from their breeding areas to their winter homes. The resulting migrations of bird species in spring and autumn color our skies and neighborhoods with a stunning diversity of birds, but they rely on local green spaces and nature preserves like these for rest, food, and shelter.


 

Since 2008, Openlands and the Forest Preserves of Cook County have worked together to enhance over 1,400 acres of continuous grassland habitat at these two preserves. Restoration has involved removing invasive vegetation, planting native prairie plants, and engaging volunteers and the surrounding community. We worked to restore the sites’ natural hydrology (the process of how water moves through an area), and in some instances, reconstructed the natural topography by shaping depressions in the land to mimic wetlands. Recreating these landscapes has led to spectacular results.

Since the restoration occurred, both preserves have attracted many grassland birds — particularly Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Dickcissels, as well as winter raptors such as the Northern Harrier and the Short-eared Owl — in much greater numbers and over more acres. In 2017, 11 new bird species were observed at the preserves: Greater White-fronted Goose, Alder Flycatcher, Broad-winged Hawk, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Mourning Warbler, American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler! These species add to the 160+ bird species that have been observed at the preserves as of February 2018.


Tinley-Bartel MUST CREDIT Erin Soto (2)

And while the abundance of bird species is reason to celebrate, the quality of restored habitat is worth protecting as strongly as we can. Following restoration, both of these preserves were awarded Illinois Land and Water Reserve status by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, granting additional protection for these special places. Over 900 acres of Tinley Creek Wetlands were protected in 2017 as Bobolink Meadow Land and Water Reserve, and Bartel Grassland Land and Water Reserve is 585 acres of protected natural areas.

Additionally, both preserves earned recognition from the Audubon Society in 2016 as an Important Bird Area. Important Bird Areas are internationally recognized places that are chosen for their unique role in providing habitats for birds. These habitats play a vital role in the lives of birds who are endangered or threatened, either by providing breeding grounds, pathways for migration, or places to spend the winter. Of the 93 birds on Bird Conservation Network’s species of concern in the Chicago region, 50 have been observed in both preserves, including six endangered and one threatened species.

Through many efforts and the work of several partners, the restoration of Tinley Creek Wetlands and Bartel Grassland has been one of the most successful bird conservation projects in the Chicago region. After ten years of restoration, the promise of these grasslands has been fulfilled, and these preserves hold potential to serve as a regional resource for years to come.


Visit the Preserves

Bartel Grassland and Tinley Creek Wetlands are located at the intersection of Central Ave. and Flossmoor Rd. near Tinley Park. Ready to try out birding for yourself? We have some tips.

Learn more about Openlands’ land preservation efforts.


Audubon Great Lakes, Bartel Grassland Volunteers, Chicago Department of AviationChicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Living Habitats, and the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission all assisted with these projects.

Special thanks to local nature photographer Erin Soto for sharing all the above images of Bartel Grassland.

Have You Discovered Oak Openings Nature Preserve?

When was the last time you wandered through an ancient grove of oak trees and stumbled upon a hidden pond tucked away quietly in the woods? At Oak Openings Nature Preserve, you can do just that, while exploring a conservation community in the heart of Lake County, Illinois.

Oak Openings Nature Preserve is 73 acres of protected open space in Grayslake providing year-round recreation opportunities, local trail connections, chances to explore a variety of native landscapes, and a central location to start a day enjoying the Liberty Prairie Reserve — the larger conservation community and network of protected lands surrounding Oak Openings.

Liberty Prairie Reserve encompasses nearly 6,000 acres in Lake County, over half of which have been permanently protected as conserved open space through a network of natural landscapes and farmland. It is community of advocates and stewards, passionate about conserving land and wildlife, that has come together to live with a sensitivity towards nature, create a sense of place with the land, and enhance habitat for wildlife on the scale needed to thrive.

There are several ways to discover and enjoy the mosaic of sites comprising the Liberty Prairie Reserve, and we encourage you to explore the entire area for yourself during your trip to Oak Openings.

If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagrammer, bring your camera or phone and share what you find at Starved Rock! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.


Oak Openings Bench

Getting There and Site Info

Located in Grayslake, Illinois, Oak Openings Nature Preserve is on the east side of Route 45, half a mile south of Route 120 and just north of Casey Road. Parking is accessible only when traveling north on Route 45. The preserve is also accessible by train, with a stop along both the Milwaukee District North and North Central lines (Prairie Crossing stations).

The Casey Trail passes through Oak Openings and connects to a 12+ mile local trail system. Signage provides additional site and trail information, and dog waste bags are available at the trailhead. There is a portable restroom located in the parking area.


Almond Foot Path

Hike to a Quiet, Hidden Pond

Hidden among the oak groves of the preserve is the quiet Ryan Pond, with a simple shore line perfect for a picnic. As you venture along the Casey Trail, you will notice a shallow creek carving through the trees to the north of the trail — this is Bulls Brook. This creek empties into Ryan Pond, a site protected in Illinois as a Land and Water Reserve. About half a mile along the Casey trail, you’ll come to a dirt path leading away from the gravel path (shown above). This is the Almond Marsh foot path.

Ryan Pond is a registered Illinois Land and Water Reserve. We’ve been told it was dug so sediment in Bulls Brook from the surrounding agricultural lands could settle out before the creek entered the high quality Almond Marsh wetlands, which are also protected as an Illinois Nature Preserve.

Wander these dirt trails wherever they take you for a phenomenal adventure through an oak woodland. A short walk will bring you to the pond, and a longer adventure will bring you to benches sitting in the shade of massive trees and entire wetlands within Almond Marsh. This trail winds through a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve, so it is one of the best examples of Illinois wildlife and landscapes.

Please be advised that this is a dirt path with graded sections, small foot bridges, and tree roots crossing the trail. It may not be accessible for all visitors. The trail passes through a dedicated nature preserve, which is home to delicate wildlife, so please do smell and enjoy the flowers, but please do not take any home with you. Additionally, since this trail passes near a wetland, you should be aware of the potential to encounter wildlife and insects. Learn more here about living with wildlife.


Casey Trail

Make a day of it!

  • Independence Grove Forest Preserve: Independence Grove is the more popular Forest Preserve in Lake County. Located on the eastern boundary of the Reserve, Independence Grove Forest Preserve offers over six miles of trails for hiking, biking, and other outdoor recreation. You can also rent bikes and a variety of boats on-site and explore the 115-acre lake, enjoy a picnic, or take in the picturesque setting for a day outdoors!
  • Des Plaines River Water Trail: Launching from Independence Grove, you can explore the Des Plaines River by canoeing or kayaking along the Des Plaines River Water Trail. Lake and Cook County Forest Preserve Districts have protected long stretches of the river by developing a Des Plaines River greenway and bike path along its banks.
  • Prairie Crossing Farm: Located across the street from Oak Openings is the Prairie Crossing community and Prairie Crossing Farm. Educational programs and tours are offered through the Liberty Prairie Foundation at the Farm Business Development Center. Learn about the 100 acre certified organic farm or ask about volunteering! You can also check out the calendar for upcoming events.
  • Rollins Savanna: One of Lake County’s largest forest preserves, Rollins Savanna offers the perfect setting for grassland birds and other wildlife. A 5.5-mile gravel trail with bridges and boardwalks winds through wetlands, groves of large oaks, and open prairies teeming with wildflowers and native grasses. The trail is open for hiking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing.
  • Downtown Libertyville and Grayslake: Enjoy the many shops and restaurants the villages of Libertyville and Grayslake have to offer. Stopping over in the local towns is a great way to show how conservation and eco-tourism can benefit local economies.

Learn more about Openlands conservation efforts in Lake County.

Preserving Farmland and Cherished Family Memories in Support of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

When Elena Spiegelhoff inherited the family farm in McHenry County, she wanted to protect the farmland and natural features she had known since childhood. The farm had been in her family since 1950, first in the care of her parents, and then her brother, Eugene. But Elena knew she couldn’t care for the farm forever.

Elena speaks with fond memories of this family home in Richmond: growing up, the family horse would plunge her into the Nippersink Creek on hot summer days, her grandmother would spend their summers working in her garden and using the farm house table for baking; Elena would climb to her hillside “secret garden” hidden among the oak trees that would produce the “best tasting melons in all of [McHenry] County,”; and she would walk the land as a kid in the company of her two dogs. How do you part with a place you hold so dear?

Elena wanted to ensure her family’s farm was preserved and that it can be a place for future generations to appreciate. Her deep love and respect of the land led Elena to a partnership with The Land Conservancy of McHenry County (TLC) and Openlands. Today, we are pleased to announce that we have permanently protected the land that Elena loves.


This was a prime opportunity for Openlands to support Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Hoffman Farm, which honors the family name, is 153 acres sitting within the greater refuge area. In May 2018 we completed the process to protect the farm: first, together with TLC, we helped Elena place a conservation easement on her property before purchasing the protected land. We are now working with a sustainable farmer to keep the land healthy and productive in its new role as a native plant nursery.

Hoffman Farm also presented an opportunity to preserve some local history as well as high quality natural resources. Elena’s brother Eugene was an avid fan of model trains and formerly operated a small model train on the farm for local residents to enjoy. While that service is no longer running regular trips, Elena wanted to make sure her brother’s legacy wasn’t paved over as a mall or subdivision, and portions of the old model train tracks now remain on the land.

The oak-hickory woodland that served as a backdrop to so many childhood adventures has been protected and we will help that ecosystem thrive. Finally, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service structured Hackmatack around the many small waterways that comprise the Nippersink Creek watershed, and Hoffman Farm straddles half a mile of some of the most pristine waters in the creek’s North Branch, providing substantial support to habitat and wildlife in the region.


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Hoffman Farm is one of five sites Openlands is currently working to protect in support of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Like the farm, these projects are the result of partnerships with willing sellers or private landowners who place conservation easements on their land. As Openlands continues to protect new areas within the greater refuge area, we are interested in exploring multiple land-use strategies to protect natural resources, promote a culture of conservation, help the region thrive, and ensure working agricultural lands remain healthy and productive. Red Buffalo Nursery will now operate on Hoffman Farm, providing native plants both for purchase and to assist with landscape restorations throughout the region.

Agricultural conservation easements, like the easement at Hoffman Farm, can ensure that farmland remains protected. These practices lead to healthier soil, cleaner waters, and a better home for wildlife. Openlands is excited to work with small and new farmers for the benefit of local communities and our region’s sustainable agriculture.


While it took some time to protect her home, Elena Spiegelhoff stood by this vision, and we cannot thank her enough for sharing her love of the land with us. We are honored to assist landowners like Elena who share our passion for land conservation. Many thanks to our partners at the Land Conservancy of McHenry County, to Grand Victoria Foundation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service for their vital support, and to the early leadership in this project provided by Liberty Prairie Foundation and Food:Land:Opportunity, an initiative of the Kinship Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust, funded by the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust.

For more information on Openlands’ regional land conservation work or on Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, please contact landpreservation@openlands.org.

Explore Your Lakes and Rivers Returns This Summer!

Openlands’ popular Explore Your Lakes and Rivers paddling series is back this summer! Explore Your Lakes and Rivers is designed to acquaint local residents with the water trails surrounding them in the Chicago and Calumet areas. Whether for river cleanups, educational opportunities, or just for fun, these paddling events have brought families out on the water across the area.

Openlands facilitates paddling events and workshops around the region at local parks, along the region’s water trails, or in county forest preserves. These workshops are open to the public, free of charge, and are often coupled with volunteer and stewardship opportunities such as a park cleanup or river cleanup. With the assistance of several partners, canoes and kayaks are provided and first-time paddlers are encouraged to join us!


paddlers

Openlands has a series of workshops and paddling events set for summer 2018! Mark your calendars with the dates below and be sure to email paddle@openlands.org so we can keep you up-to-date as we finalize plans for these trips.

Join us on Saturday, June 2 for our first event of the year, our annual cleanup of the Little Calumet River launching from Kickapoo Woods! We will be removing trash and debris from the Little Calumet River from our canoes, and free canoe and kayak lessons will be offered to volunteers. The section of the Little Calumet that flows through Kickapoo Woods is a shallow stream, great for beginners and families with children. It is also a great place to see wildlife such as turtles and great blue herons.

This summer we will also host a series of paddling events on Lake Michigan! Enjoy the trail by paddling on Lake Michigan in large, guided, beginner-appropriate voyageur canoes, and learn about opportunities for recreation, education, and stewardship along Illinois’ northern Lake Michigan coast!  All events include beginner-friendly paddling experiences and other family friendly activities. People of all ages, skill levels, and abilities are welcome – bring your family and connect to Lake Michigan! Learn more…

  • Saturday, June 30, 11am – 4pm, North Point Marina, 701 North Point Drive, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096
  • Sunday, July 1, 11am – 4pm, Illinois Beach State Park, enter on Wadsworth Road, 1/5 mile east of Sheridan Road, Zion, IL 60099
  • Friday, August 3, 1 – 7pm, Waukegan Harbor, 55 S. Harbor Place, Waukegan, IL 60085

Be sure to sign up to receive Openlands’ newsletter for information on upcoming paddling events!


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Ready to explore the Water Trails of Northeastern Illinois for yourself? Visit Openlands’ online paddling guide and start exploring these waterways this weekend! Like Explore Your Lakes and Rivers events, the guide is designed to be inclusive for first-time paddlers, and is a free and open resource for the public.

The online guide contains step-by-step trip descriptions for non-motorized boating on over 500 miles of trails on 10 of the region’s waterways. The website can help you plan your next paddling trip by providing information on important features of each waterway, locations of water trail put-ins and take-outs, trip length and difficulty, and equipment rental locations.

The website also provides easy-to-use, interactive maps for each trail, indicating launch sites, dams, and skill levels along the trail. To make your trip as enjoyable as possible, the guide also notes trail extensions, shorter alternative trips, and opportunities to view wildlife and landmarks. Paddlers may also leave comments on each waterway page to share their paddling tips.

With the guide’s help, you’ll be prepared to visit some of the highest quality aquatic habitat along the Kishwaukee River, paddle on Little Calumet River through Kickapoo Woods, and take the Fox River to Silver Springs State Park. Openlands’ guide has detailed resources and trips for everyone, even if you’ve never paddled before.

With trails on Nippersink Creek winding through Glacial Park, to trips on the Chicago River in the heart of the city, northeastern Illinois’ Water Trails are waiting to be explored.

Use the guide to start planning your trip now!


Paddling events are all open to the public and we encourage you to join us at the next paddling day, even if you are a first-time paddler! For more information on Explore Your Lakes and Rivers, please contact paddle@openlands.org.

Invite Nature into Your Garden with Native Plants

Spend some time speaking to a conservationist and you’ll likely hear us talk about native plants, and while the name may be logical enough, we don’t often describe what they are, what makes them unique among other plants, or why we should plant them.

Native plants have been growing in the region for centuries, well before European settlement. They are born in our landscapes and are key to our ecosystems. These species evolved here over thousands of years in fire-adaptive soils — soils that would frequently experience wildfires — and in lands carved by glacial retreat after the last Ice Age. They also provide food and energy to the many species of birds, butterflies, and wildlife that share our home in this region.

You’ve probably heard of some native plants already, such as milkweed, coneflowers, and asters. Even among those, however, not all varieties of one particular plant are native to northeastern Illinois. For example, common milkweed and butterfly milkweed are native to the region, but other varieties such as white-stemmed or green-flowered milkweed, are not, and native plants are more than flowers and grasses, they also include trees and shrubs such as sugar maple, northern catalpa, and bur oaks.


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In ecosystem restorations, we plant native species to improve the health of habitats, but you can continue this work on your own property by including native species in your home garden or your local community garden.

Bringing native plants to your garden is an easy and excellent way to invite nature in. Native plants are hardy and often require little watering. Their deep roots aid in water purification and rainwater absorption, and some even grow best in areas where water collects or flows. Native plants are also great for any landscape of any size, and there are a wide variety of species to choose from. However, the optimal location for a native plant depends on the species.

Openlands has made it easy to plant native species this year through our Native Plant Sale. Through the Native Plant Sale, the public can purchase trees, shrubs, flowers, ferns, and other plants for their homes and properties both online and at an on-site store. We will accept online orders from Thursday, March 29 through Sunday, April 29. Orders must be picked up between May 18 and May 20 from 9am-3pm at Almond Marsh Forest Preserve, located at 32492 N. Almond Rd. in Grayslake.

Our pop-up shop will be open from May 18 to May 31 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays), 9am-3pm at Almond Marsh Forest Preserve, located at 32492 N. Almond Rd. in Grayslake, Illinois. Plant experts will be available to assist shoppers at the on-site store.

The native species for sale are not available at traditional nurseries and garden centers. The curated selection being offered is chosen specifically for the plants’ landscaping aesthetics and suitability for private properties, and they’ll look great in your garden!

Proceeds from the sale go towards Openlands and help support programs such as the restoration of the Liberty Prairie Reserve, Conservation@Home, and regional advocacy work. Openlands members receive 10% off purchases using the code mailed to them. Become an Openlands member.

Celebrate Earth Day Around Chicagoland

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22, but there are celebrations taking place all weekend long. We want to share some ways you can enjoy and protect the planet! Below is a list of just a few places where you can get involved, spend some time outside, and enjoy the nature around you throughout the Chicago area.

If you just want to get outside and celebrate Earth Day in your own way, take a look at our suggestions to discover the outdoors of the Chicago region.


Saturday, April 14

As a follow-up to last year’s March for Science, head to the Field Museum to Speak Up For Science. This is the follow-up action to last year’s March for Science. Come meet scientists, learn about concrete ways you can fight for the planet, share your voice with legislators through a postcard-writing campaign, explore the Field Museum, and more! Learn more.

Openlands is looking for volunteers to help restore the Liberty Prairie Reserve in Grayslake, Illinois. Volunteers will help each workday by removing brush, plant trees, or spread native plant seeds. Learn more.


Saturday, April 21

Join Openlands for community tree plantings across Chicago. On Earth Day we are looking for TreeKeepers to help plant in Humboldt Park and our Forestry Crew is assisting a community tree planting at Morrill Elementary School in the Chicago Lawn Neighborhood. Be sure to register as a volunteer if you’re interested.

Friends of the Parks is organizing their 29th Annual Earth Day Parks and Preserves Clean-Up. All morning long, volunteers will be out caring for the parks and green spaces of Chicago. Learn more.

DuPage Forest Preserves are hosting several history hikes, site tours, and restoration workdays at Churchill Woods, West Chicago Prairie, and Mayslake. See the full list.

Lake County Forest Preserve District is also hosting a number of restoration workdays at sites across the county. Learn more.


Sunday, April 22

Forest Preserves of Cook County will host a series of Earth Day events including special celebrations, bird hikes at LaBagh Woods and Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, wildflower hikes, canoe trips, volunteer restoration projects, and more. Check out their full list.

At the Morton Arboretum, unleash your inner champion as you run a 10k through a springtime morning surrounded by trees from around the world. The challenging course follows the Arboretum’s east side main route through rolling terrain. Learn more.


Get Outside!

Get outside in the Chicago region, enjoy spring in bloom, and celebrate the planet. Consider a hike at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, paddling on the Nippersink Creek, or a bird walk in your local park. A few more of our favorite places to get outside include the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, North Park Village Nature Center, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Be sure to share your Earth Day with us! If you’re on Instagram, tag your photos from Earth Day with #DiscoverYourPlace to share your day with the Openlands community.

Restoration Is Complex, But We Shouldn’t Shy from the Challenge

Many of us don’t realize just how much natural beauty surrounds us in northeast Illinois or that even as the most populous part of the state, we are also home to the richest diversity of wildlife. A February 2018 story in the Chicago Tribune highlights the difficult reality of caring for all these special places. It is true that many ecological restoration projects amount to very little when conducted the wrong way or when inadequate resources are allocated for long-term care.

But none of this should negate the importance of ecological restoration. Restoration is the process of returning the land to a healthy state for nature, wildlife, and people. The Tribune article suggested one of the best ways to achieve this goal would be to prevent the sources of natural area degradation, but that’s just impractical: decades of urbanization and development coupled with ordinary human interaction with the land have reduced the health of natural areas, but we can correct that through restoration.

Success in these projects requires careful consideration of the sites we choose to restore, and it is imperative to involve local communities and volunteers in the process to foster greater responsibility and greater appreciation for the land and water. And when restoration projects are done correctly, the results speak for themselves.


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A recent study prepared by Stantec Consulting valued the return of two restoration projects managed by Openlands for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. It shows that short and long-term gains from restoring natural, recreational, and cultural features of Forest Preserves produced financial benefits that are worth more than eight times their costs. We’ve also seen how restoring pre-European settlement wetlands can dramatically reduce water pollution and localized flooding, with less water running off into streets and into basements. Flooding is reduced, visitation increases, and the local economic benefits.

These restoration sites — Deer Grove East and Tinley Creek Wetlands —were chosen explicitly for their ability to impact the bigger picture, and while restoration ecology is a young science, it is informed by rigorous data, showing us which sites hold potential for high quality restoration even in the face of a changing climate.

If we, as conservationists, continue to toil away on restoration projects without seeing how all the pieces fit together and without reaching out to the communities who live nearby, we will continue wasting our resources. Here, where the Great Lakes meet the Great Plaines, it is our collective responsibility to care for these landscapes and to protect what’s left for the benefit of people and nature.


As part of the O’Hare Modernization Program, Openlands managed the restoration of five sites in the Des Plaines River Valley. Following restoration, several of these sites were enrolled in the Illinois Nature Preserve System. For more information, please contact landpreservation@openlands.org.

Invenergy Helps Restore Land and Water in the Chicago Region

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Openlands is pleased to announce our newest corporate member, Invenergy! Invenergy is a leader in environmentally responsible development of clean and renewable energy, and Openlands is tremendously pleased to share news of their support for protecting lands and waters and for building a conservation community in the region.

Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and help balance and enrich our lives. One major way Invenergy is assisting Openlands achieve our mission is by providing support for restoration of natural areas. Restoration is the process of returning the land to a healthy state for nature, wildlife, and people. Decades of urbanization and development coupled with ordinary human interaction with the land have reduced the health of many natural areas, but we can correct that through restoration.

Invenergy is providing vital support to Openlands as we gear up for 2018: with their help, Openlands will continue to build an 11,500-acre wildlife refuge along the Illinois-Wisconsin border; we can better restore ecologically-significant natural areas; and we will make sure these special places are accessible to all people.


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Building Habitats across a Regional Landscape

Along the Illinois-Wisconsin border, Openlands is working to build Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, established in 2012. Hackmatack aims to restore and connect a landscape carved by glaciers over the centuries. It includes large blocks of grasslands, wet prairies, and natural stream watercourses. As land is protected for Hackmatack, the refuge will offer growing opportunities for wildlife viewing, hunting, fishing, photography, environmental education, and more.

The diverse habitat found in the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge area is home to over 100 species of concern that were identified during the 2012 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ecological assessment within the greater Hackmatack area, including bald eagles, bobolinks, lake sturgeon, and the eastern prairie fringed orchid! The landscapes of the region are living remnants of the last Ice Age, and the streams that wind through the refuge are some of the purest waters in Illinois.

Over time, Hackmatack will become a mosaic of protected lands that provide habitats large enough for wildlife to thrive, recreation and education opportunities for people, and economic support for local communities.


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Data-Driven Conservation

In addition to protecting landscapes on a large scale, Openlands leads strategic restorations of natural areas that have substantial potential to provide havens for migrating wildlife and to improve natural resources. Openlands will often assess projects based on how restoration will impact the site’s hydrology — the way water interacts with land at a natural area. Wetland areas in particular are often highly prioritized for restoration.

Focusing on water in restoration projects makes sense: not only does it help manage our most precious natural resources, but it can also substantially reduce local flooding and reduce pollution in our water. Wetlands both provide excellent habitat for birds and animals, and their unique soils and plants can also store massive amounts of stormwater, which means far less local flooding. The more stormwater we can retain on-site, the less of it runs off into streets and into basements. When streets and homes do flood, the stormwater becomes very polluted before receding into rivers and lakes. When that stormwater is held in wetlands, however, it is filtered as it returns to rivers, and cleaner rivers mean more migrating wildlife and cleaner water for communities downstream.

Data and monitoring of sites before restoration can help determine which projects can achieve the highest impact. For example, we are working to improve the hydrology of sites like Bartel Grassland and Bobolink Meadow, Deer Grove East Forest Preserve, and Messenger Woods. Each of these sites were chosen for their potential to hold stormwater and improve water quality in the Upper Des Plaines River Watershed (water which eventually reaches the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico).


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Connecting with the Land

Not to be left out of the equation is the connection between people and the land. Even in urban areas, nature is all around us, and Openlands works on a variety of levels to make nature can thrive — even in residential areas — and that people have opportunities to appreciate these amazing places.

Our Birds in my Neighborhood program introduces Chicago Public Schools students to the common birds of the region through a research project and field trips as a way to foster greater appreciation of both birds and the natural world. A single class lesson can inspire a group of students to become expert birders. In May 2017 for example, the students from Chicago’s Ruiz Elementary spotted 44 different species in one afternoon while on a field trip to a local park!

In the end, Openlands wants to make sure these special places are accessible to people from all walks of life. Invenergy’s commitment provides critical support to protecting ecologically sensitive areas and habitats, and Invenergy assists Openlands as we further our mission to connect people to nature where they live.


Invenergy is a leader in environmentally responsible development of clean and renewable energy. We are committed to being a responsible community partner with Openlands who shares our desire to protect the Greater Chicago & Great Lakes region’s natural habitats.

For more information on Openlands Corporate Membership, please contact development@openlands.org.

America’s Most Influential Environmental Protection Law

The White House has issued a plan for “rebuilding infrastructure in America,” but this proposal sacrifices the bedrock of environmental protection laws to polluting interests by gutting many provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA).

NEPA has been widely acknowledged as the most forward thinking environmental protection law in the world. Its passage and approval by President Nixon were a massive step forward for the environment, and more than 100 countries have used it as a model. For the first time, everyone from Federal land managers to private developers were legally compelled to conduct a uniform and full review of impacts to the environment for every development project. It compels scientific surveys to determine how developments impact wildlife, natural resources, pollution, and health of local residents over the long term. NEPA also requires the Federal Government, state and local agencies, private parties, and other partners to identify project alternatives that better coexist with the environment.

NEPA fundamentally changed the way we protect the places we love, and it has become the foundation for all environmental protections since, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Openlands has invoked NEPA in three instances as a last line of defense to save natural treasures, including the Kankakee River, the Fox River, and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Our success stemmed from the strength of the law, but that very strength is what the current administration looks to eradicate.


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Under the infrastructure proposal, released on February 12, environmental reviews for projects would be consolidated under the agency that proposes them. This would create a system that merely rubber stamps controversial decisions like the Illiana Tollway and the Dakota Access Pipeline. The plan aims to eliminate the EPA’s ability to review the environmental impacts of a project under the Clean Air Act, an ability that has allowed the EPA to prevent harmful air pollution. It would allow some projects to opt-out of certain environmental protections altogether. And it would allow private developers to pay federal agencies to expedite environmental reviews of their projects, which is tantamount to bribery at the expense of public health and the environment. Going forward with any of these provisions would fundamentally weaken NEPA and erode the bedrock of our country’s environmental protections.

The infrastructure plan further attacks conservation policies by proposing that Federal agencies could sell off public lands without Congressional approval. It would allow the Secretary of the Interior to run pipelines through our National Parks and it would prevent the National Park Service or the Forest Service from determining whether conserved lands can be paved over for highway development. The plan seeks to decimate the EPA’s authority to enforce clean water protections by delegating many responsibilities to the states, which have far fewer resources to protect natural resources and reduce pollution.

Done correctly, infrastructure investment can provide secure jobs for American families and help to develop a low-carbon public transportation system. This plan from the White House comes nowhere close to these goals. Its proposals embrace the false choice that economic progress can only come at the expense of a clean environment, protected lands, and the basic rule of law – but we know the opposite is true.

Openlands is calling on Congress to remove all of these environmentally destructive proposals from the infrastructure plan before a vote, and to strengthen conservation laws to better protect our shared environment.

Have You Discovered Starved Rock State Park?

Starved Rock State Park is certainly a trek from downtown Chicago, but one that’s worth making. Recently voted as the top tourist attraction in Illinois, Starved Rock is a pleasure to visit year-round, with scenic waterfalls in the warmer months and stunning icefalls in the winter. The park boasts an extensive 13-mile trail system, it’s home to hundreds of old oak trees, and it is one of the best places in the Midwest to see the bald eagle population which overwinters along the Illinois River.

Starved Rock takes its name from a Native American legend: in the 1760s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa Tribe was killed by an Illiniwek while attending an inter-tribal council in southern Illinois. In a series of battles following the event, a band of Illiniwek sought refuge from a band of Potawatomi warriors (themselves allies of the Ottawa) atop a 125-foot sandstone butte overlooking the Illinois River. The Ottawa and Potawatomi laid seige to the rock, starving the Illiniwek above.

Stories like these are reminders that the lands protected today in our country are lands taken from the indigenous nations that lived here before us. We recognize that indigenous peoples across North America have looked to correct centuries of historical injustices by permanently protecting land through conservation – and that work extends to our home in the Midwest. Today we work to restore the land to health, to respect the land and the water, and to share these places with all people.

Enjoy your trip to Starved Rock, take some time to learn about the history of these lands, and respect that land wherever you go.


Directions

Starved Rock State Park is located on IL Route 178 (E 8th Road) in Ogelsby. Exit south on I-80 at Exit 81. The entrace to the park is approximately 10 minutes from the Interstate on the south bank of the Illinois River.


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What Can You Do at Starved Rock?

  • Hiking: Starved Rock boasts an extensive 13-mile trail system, with many paths either paved or elevated on a boardwalk. These trails can be muddy and there are many staircases winding through the park, so be sure to wear sturdy shoes or boots. Download a trail map.
  • Camping: The Starved Rock campground has over 120 sites, complete with a supply store, electricity, and indoor plumbing in the restroom and shower facility. Weekend reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to reserve a site online. (There is also a lodge and cabins to rent.) Learn more…
  • Canyons: There are 18 canyons in Starved Rock State Park, 14 of which have running waterfalls and icefalls. St. Louis (pictured above), Wildcat, and French canyons all offer spectacular scenery.
  • Bald Eagles: Starved Rock is an excellent place to spot bald eagles during the winter. These eagles migrate along North America’s rivers, hunting for fish in the waters below. A dam on the Illinois River located near Starved Rock keeps the river from freezing over completely in the winter, making Starved Rock an ideal winter home for these iconic birds.
  • Guided Tours: The Starved Rock State Park Visitor Center offers a rich exhibit with great educational programs for all ages. There you can learn all about the exciting history and geology of this park, join a guided tour, or listen in on some of their programming. Learn more…
  • History: Starved Rock is intimately tied to both the indigenous history of our region and the history of the State of Illinois. Head to Starved Rock to learn more about how the Illinois River has shaped human history through the ages.
  • Discover! If you’re a photographer or just an avid Instagrammer, bring your camera or phone and share what you find at Starved Rock! Tag your Instagram posts with #DiscoverYourPlace to be featured on our stream and please share with us the highlights from your adventure.

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Make a Day or Weekend of It!

  • Matthiessen State Park: If you’re making the trip to Starved Rock, add a stop at Matthiessen State Park. It’s a phenomenal cross-section of geological history, with a 5-mile trail system, plenty of recreation opportunities, and stunning scenery. Learn more…
  • Buffalo Rock State Park: This park is nearly 300-acres of woodlands and bluffs carved over the years by the Illinois River. You can pack a picnic, spend the night camping, connect to the I&M Canal Trail, and even see two bison! More info…
  • I&M Canal National Heritage Corridor: One cannot overestimate the seminal role the Illinois and Michigan Canal (I&M Canal) played in the founding and early history of Chicago.  This pioneering waterway connected Lake Michigan at Chicago with the Illinois River 100 miles to the southwest at LaSalle-Peru. Today, you can explore this history in the I&M Canal National Heritage Area.
  • Starved Rock Lodge: For those of you who love the outdoors and who love a warm bed, there is Starved Rock Lodge. The lodge offers a variety of accommodations for families and groups.
  • Explore the near-by towns: Starved Rock is situated between the towns of Ogelsby, Ottawa, La Salle, and Peru. Outdoor recreation and eco-tourism are estimated to contribute over $25 billion to the Illinois economy, and that spending helps the communities which surround conserved lands. Grab lunch in town or spend the night in one of these towns.