October 2015

Grow it, Don't Mow it!

A growing number of Prospect Heights residents have reached out to the Natural Resources Commission with interest in turning parts of their lawns into mini prairies. "Grow it, Don't Mow It" represents a new initiative to assist residents interested in making conversions from manicured lawns to plantings of native plants.

"We are happy to assist residents who are genuinely interested in bringing nature back to the forefront and changing the cultural aesthetic of Prospect Heights", said PHNRC Commissioner Dana Sievertson.  "The benefits in doing this are numerous and a win-win for everyone. Providing habitat and food for wildlife, increased retention and filtering of stormwater, reduced lawn maintenance, watering and the need for fertilizers are among the practical benefits but the real payoff is in the season show of flowers, butterflies, and increased wildlife." 
"By increasing the number of "prairie pockets" in the Prospect Heights area, we are contributing to the bigger picture which is to create linked corridors of native areas that provide food and habitat to migrating birds and offer the possibility of native animals, insects and amphibians returning and re-establishing themselves."

PHNRC will be working with the Prospect Heights City Council to amend the Tall Weed Ordinance to include the continued development of native plantings in the city. Residents who are interested in learning more about incorporating native landscaping into their property can reach out to us by sending an email to 
University of Wisconsin Senior Student Sean McMillion.

PHNRC Selected for UWM Capstone Project

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Landscape Architecture has selected a Prospect Heights Park District site as a Capstone Project based on the application submitted by PHNRC in August of 2015 with the expressed goals of creating public access and recreation, creating habitat and increased biodiversity, improving stream bank stabilization and improving water quality and storm water retention and filtration in the Somerset Park area. Fourth year student, Sean McMillion was assigned to the project.

Capstone projects are design only, senior requirements. Communities and organizations are invited to submit proposals for potential projects to the Department of Landscape Architecture for approval. Once approved, senior students select their project. The designers work closely with the recipients to create design solutions that fulfil the functional needs of the project while creating aesthetically pleasing environments. Implementation of the finished plan is the responsibility of the individual communities or organizations. 

Currently in his 4th year with the Landscape Architecture Department, Sean is originally from both the Madison area and the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota.  He is a huge lover of the great outdoors and spend much of his time fishing, canoeing, or backpacking.  His design interests are grounded in restoring and creating natural spaces, improving stream and water quality, and connecting people to and informing them about the natural world.

"I’m very excited to be working here to create and propose a new design for Somerset Park as my Senior Capstone Project, said senior design student Sean McMillion. 
"Somerset Park was brought to the attention of my department by Jamie Redmond, a graduate student who had recently produced her thesis on the site, and was approved as a potential project," he continued. "I chose it for myself because my professional passion is creating natural spaces which will benefit both the environment and people, and the proposed goals for the site, namely turning an underutilized open space into a restored native prairie community, matches that passion perfectly. Over the course of the academic year, I’ll be working with the PHNRC and the Parks District to fulfill this goal, and to produce a cohesive design plan for the site, which will be completed and presented to them in May 2016."  

After spending some time on the site and talking with PHNRC Chairperson Agnes 
Wojnarski and Park District Executive Director Kathy Nowicki, Sean decided the general direction to head with the design was to create a native prairie restoration on Somerset Park.  "We discussed the wants and needs of the community as well," he explained.  "Many residents consider the park to be an extension of their backyards, and we certainly don’t want to create any animosity with them by taking that away from them.  Therefore, I am thinking that in addition to creating a prairie restoration, we also ensure that the park remains very public, with easy access for property owners and with public gathering spaces for community events and socializing, so that rather than loosing a little bit of lawn, local residents gain an entire shared park and prairie."

"I am very much looking forward to see this project develop, and as it does, community involvement and feedback will be an important component.  If anyone at all would like to get into contact with me directly to voice any ideas or concerns, or to simply check in with the process, feel free to email me at, he concluded"

Shackelford Kicks off Nature Speaks


September saw the kickoff of the Nature Speaks lecture series with inaugural speaker Bruce Shackelford. Bruce's presentation,  "Life Abounds Beyond The Burning Prairie" was very informative and highly entertaining. 

Speaking to a large audience comprised of residents and stewards from area restoration projects at the Borland meeting room, Shackelford spoke in great detail about his Woolsey wet prairie project in Arkansas.  He spoke about the adaptive management tools he used at Woolsey and employs for his ecological restoration of prairies and wetlands.

Bruce discussed his use of herbicides and how he goes about selecting the right one for the task at hand and how and when he decides to use a  prescribed burn or flame torching. His presentation also gave insights into how they changed the hydrology of the Woolsey project to turn it into a wetland prairie and the regular maintenance/management program that keeps it evolving.

The evening concluded with the showing of the television documentary Shackleford wrote and narrated entitled, "Woolsey Wet Prairie – After The Burn". Born out of the unfortunate circumstance of an unauthorized burn by a rogue contractor, the film focused on what happens to a restoration project after it has been burned. The results are stunning and a testimony to the power of nature. For those of you the lecture, the documentary can be viewed by clicking here.

"Bruce's presentation was fascinating. It is awe inspiring to see the rebirth after the burn. We invited our friends and we all found it enjoyable and educational,"  commented Prospect Heights resident Bruce Haeer. "We are looking forward to the next lecture." 

Nature Speaks continues on January 26th with the next guest speaker, John McCabe, 

Director of the Department of Resource Management for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. John will be presenting "Fire and the Forest Preserves of Cook County".

John McCabe to discuss Urban Burning
as Nature Speaks Continues


January 26, 2016, Nature Speaks will be proud to present John McCabe, Director of the Department of Resource Management for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

McCabe's  presentation entitled “Fire and the Forest Preserves of Cook County”, will discuss some of the history behind prescribed fire and fire in general at the forest preserves.  The presentation will focus on prescribed burning in the urban environment and how the Preserves apply this critical management tool safely and effectively across our holdings.

Residents of Prospect Heights and City Officials will find John's talk particularly informative, useful and comforting as the Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission hopes to conduct a prescribed burn of the Slough in the spring of 2016.

McCabe is recognized as an expert in conducting prescribed burns in the urban environment and is a lead instructor for the Chicago Wilderness Midwest Ecological Prescription Burn Crew Member training course. He expertly coordinates projects and communicates with volunteers, partner organizations, contractors and interns to ensure thoughtful and effective habitat management.  He is also responsible for managing the recently released Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan which proposes concrete solutions to set the Forest Preserves’ land management direction for the next 25 years.

McCabe's talk will feature his fantastic collection of photos taken at his controlled burns. The way we see it, this is the perfect way to heat up a cold winter night!

"Fire and the Forest Preserves of Cook County" will take place at the Prospect Heights Public Library's Borland meeting room and start promptly at 7:00. Registration for this event is necessary. Please register by calling or visiting the information desk at the library, 847.259.3500 ext. 35 or register on line at and go to the events calendar and click on the event.

Details on the Nature Speaks program and its speakers can be found on our website at www.

Swapping Stewardship
Stories and Special Experiences

Restoration programs have a history of working together to the benefit of all. Steward swapping, is a common practice where the Stewards and volunteers from one program will venture over to another to increase the size of the workforce, exchange techniques and ideas then return the favor by coming over and returning the favor.

This past September volunteers from PHNRC had the opportunity to visit other sites and meet with the volunteers that make very meaningful differences in natural areas outside of Prospect Heights.

In early September, PHNRC volunteers visited the Morton Arboretum, where a dedicated group of volunteers works tirelessly to restore acres of woodland and wetland that support a great diversity of amphibians and reptiles. After being given a wonderful introduction to the land use history of the site, including aerial photography and original land surveys, we went to work together cutting invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn, clearing the area for native species of plants that will return to support the important and increasingly rare fauna.

A beautiful day, delicious refreshments and great comradery were only topped by the icing on the cake, as one volunteer spotted a spring peeper frog on a tree trunk. These tiny, beautiful frogs are becoming increasingly rare in Cook and DuPage counties, as well as other counties in Illinois, as a result of habitat loss, fragmentation and infestation by non-native plant species that displace the native flora.

Spring Peeper.
We also visited Poplar Creek prairie last month to join them on their workday, along with visiting guest speaker Bruce Shackleford, who was given a tour of the nature preserve, one of the last remaining gravel hill prairies in Cook County. Volunteers helped to collect seed that will be processed and sown by the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards who have transformed over 600 acres of adjacent land that used to be farmed into a magnificent prairie, wetland and woodland landscape. The beautiful work of dedicated Stewards for the last 25 years was enough to give everyone goosebumps!

Seeing species of plants that can only be found on such remnant pieces of land was breathtaking, learning about the many species of birds that are threatened but now nesting there was heartwarming, and spending time collecting seed with the volunteers that put their heart into restoration and Conservation was inspiring. Even more inspiring was to see the great numbers of youth that were participating in the workday.

Poplar Creek Prairie
PHNRC also invited Stewards from the Morton Arboretum to our own workday. Many of the volunteers have already participated in our work days, driving from far away to help with the transformation of the Slough, the ComEd Bike path prairie restoration and the remnant sites.

After our workday, we decided to visit a recently discovered patch of special prairie plants. Although it was small with only a few species, one to revisit for sure! 

For a few moments on that sunny fall afternoon, we felt like children again, exploring the Wilderness, looking for something special and exciting. As adults, we can remember a time when we marveled at bugs and birds and walked through some natural area with our friends searching for adventure. John, a steward from the Morton Arboretum, spotted a beautiful praying mantis that was very happy to have us marvel at him and take a few pictures.


PHNRC To Lend a Helping Hand


A perfect fall day is in the offering for this great opportunity to lend a helping hand to one of our partner organizations, Oakton Community College.
The Oakton Community College Ecology club workday is Sat. Oct. 24 from 9-1, with breakfast at 8:30. There will be some brush/tree cutting and burning, a controlled burn, shrub planting and seed collecting,processing and planting. This is a great chance to experience a variety of restoration activities in a truly amazing site. Work will be at the new baseball field prairie with parking at the ball field.
Registration is requested with links in the PDF. 
Copyright © 2015 Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission, All rights reserved.

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