Openlands worked with the Forest Preserve District of Will County to restore wetland, prairie, and savanna habitats of Messenger Woods, a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve, in an effort that will enable wildlife to thrive, help reduce flooding, and enhance groundwater recharge.
As one of the few forests in northeastern Illinois that has never been grazed, cut, farmed, or developed, Messenger Woods encapsulates a unique old grove environment of oaks and maples, as well as endangered rock elm and sweeps of spring wildflowers. However, an adjacent wetland had been drained for grazing and farming. In 2008, Openlands and the Forest Preserve District developed a plan for the restoration of 90 acres of the wetland and farmland that buffered Messenger Woods Nature Preserve. This was done in partnership with the Forest Preserve District (the property owner), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Earthwork, removal of drainage tile, and erosion control were conducted in order to restore a graded wetland capable of capturing additional rainwater. The removal of cottonwood, black locust, and other invasive vegetation allowed sedge meadow and wet prairie to thrive in this renewed prairie habitat. Over 80 acres of seeding resulted in the growth of native prairie grasses, wildflowers, and sedges while enhancing the existing woodlands, all of which provide homes for a multitude of birds, insects, and other animal species. To help maintain the now-functional wetland, prairie, and savanna habitats, Openlands is conducting ongoing weed control and prescribed burning.
Messenger Woods Nature Preserve engages birdwatchers and prairie lovers as the home of Virginia bluebells and wild geranium as well as the Cooper’s hawk and the rare veery. The restored wetlands provide a natural catchbasin for rainwater, therefore helping to reduce flooding and replenish clean groundwater. Future trail and interpretive elements will allow visitors to immerse themselves in this diverse and dynamic landscape.
Location: Will County, Illinois
Funding Source: O’Hare Modernization Mitigation Account (OMMA)
Owner & land manager: Forest Preserve District of Will County
Size of project site: 90 acres
Partners: Forest Preserve District of Will County, Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago Department of Aviation