July 2016

Park District and PHNRC receive Openlands Grant for Nature Preserve

The PHNRC and the Park District of Prospect Heights received notice that they have been awarded a Commonwealth Edison Green Region Program grant, administered through Openlands in the amount of $10,000.00. The grant is matched by the City of Prospect Heights and the Park District in the amount of $5,000.00 each, making the total award $20,000.00.

This marks the second time the PHNRC and the Park District have been awarded a Green Regions grant. The first award which included the City of Prospect Heights as a partner was for the 5 acre restoration of the ComEd Bike Path Prairie and the restoration work being conducted at the slough. Both of those projects are now wrapping up their second year of progress.

"This grant makes it possible to move forward with the restoration of a hidden jewel that had been infested with buckthorn and completely impenetrable,"  said PHNRC Chairperson Agnes Wojnarski. "The upper portion of the site was impossible to walk through," she continued, "It was a favorite party spot and was filled with garbage. We also saw a lot of dumping. Once we got to the bottom of it all, it was clear to everyone we had something very raw with great potential."
Meetings with the Park District Executive Director Christina Ferraro hatched a plan to create an interactive nature learning center for children. "With the close proximity of Eisenhower school, the Park District kindercare and afterschool programs, it is a natural location," said PD Executive Director Christina Ferraro. "We are looking to create a nature learning center that will become an extension of the classrooms."

The two acre site consists of an upper and lower section with a winding creek cutting through the site. There is one area that provides a natural seating area for classes, several "log" tables and chairs and many, many opportunities for education and unlimited fun with the creek so accessible.

The plan calls for a total native forb and grass restoration of the open land, planting native trees, bushes and shrubs, interactive hiking path with an interpretive bridge to cross over the creek, signage and a restored  prairie section with walking paths near the library entrance.
Dr. Wojnarski poses with a stranger in Urbana in place of Dr. Hilty

Paging Dr. Hilty

The world of restoration knows Dr. John Hilty's website, If you are like most of us, you consult it 2-3 times a day. It is one of the most ubiquitous tools in the restoration tool chest and a resource that is clear, consist, accurate and always right. That said, if you google up  Dr. John Hilty, he is a ghost. He doesn't exist. 

It was my original intention to put a face on the man behind the website, to give him the recognition and adulations he so justly deserves. I wanted to introduce the world to Dr. John Hilty, the genius behind this magnificent resource tool. To pull back the curtains on the man just like Toto did in the Wizard of Oz. I intended a 4 to 5 part series starting with his youth, what motivated him to such heights, where this deep seeded love of plants came from. Was it family, a personal adventure, a chance encounter, a failed love affair? 

What I was not prepared for was the fact that he wanted no part of it. Intensely private and just as happy to be living in the zeros and ones, I quickly had to reformulate my thinking and try to come to grips with the reality that over half of my story was now on the cutting room floor. With such a devastating blow to my well laid plans, I wondered why the hell he ever agreed to meet us in the first place.

Making the trip with me was PHNRC Chairperson Dr. Agnes Wojnarski. Dr. Hilty was her hero, an icon, a mythical god that she had never imagined she could possibly meet. All the way down to Urbana, Agnes studied a deck of homemade flash cards of 800 species that featured english names on one side, scientific names on the other. "Really," I said, "Are we ever going to talk?" Needless to say in her mind, the stakes were high and her only quest right now was to measure up. 

We had been communicating on and off with Dr. Hilty for months. Originally, we were trying to get him to be a guest speaker for our Nature Speaks program. It took over two and a half months to arrive at no. Not being one to give up, I was committed to find another way to accomplish my mission. When you send Dr. Hilty an email, you might get a response in a week or two, or maybe it's a month later; usually on a Monday. There is no such thing as critical timelines or urgent matters, he is on his own schedule and some kind of an hierarchical order that only he understands.

We had been invited to spend the entire day. We were shocked, honored and humbled that this great mind would even consider talking to us, never imagining spending the day with him. The agenda was clean; interview 10:00 -12:00, lunch followed by prairie restoration tours and a tour of the really impressive naturalized area that runs through the center of Urbana, serving a great need for flood control and water retention. We were completely unprepared for how the events unfolded.

After pulling into the parking lot of his apartment complex, we sat for a moment trying to shake off the cobwebs of an early morning departure. Looking in the rearview mirror, we noticed a figure crossing the parking lot and heading towards the car. "Quick lets go, it's him," Agnes said. We popped out of the car and came face to face with Dr. John Hilty. 

Within seconds we knew this was not going to be an ordinary meeting. "Dr Hilty?" I said. "Yes," he replied as I introduced myself and Agnes and thanked him for this incredible opportunity. He said nothing. Absolutely nothing, he stared at us. What we were about to learn was that Dr. Hilty was a genius. A real genius on the magnitude of Mozart or Einstein but for the love of god, one of the most deliciously eccentric 
people either of us had ever met. A mix of Einstein, Andy Warhol and the characterization of 
Mozart in the film Amadeus. 

Over the next few months I will do my best to give you as much insight to this most amazing character and his unbelievable though process and how he came to create this unbelievable resource. I am not sure how many issues it will be, but I can promise you it will be interesting, very interesting.

Stay Tuned. Dana
Daniella Sanchez with Commissioner Peter Hahn

Insights from the Intern

It’s unbelievable how quickly time flies by and sadly, my time with the Natural Resources Commission is coming to an end. I’m eternally grateful however, for the many kind hearted people I have met, the laughs I have shared, the knowledge I have gained, and the beautiful sights I have seen. What started as a summer opportunity to gain some experience for my future endeavors quickly turned into something much more and I did not anticipate the commitment I would feel towards the slough and prairie, nor the close relationships I would form with my bosses. 

This newsletter already keeps you informed on the progress of our projects so I wont spend any more time on the subject, but what I do want to share are a few highlights from my summer and what I will miss the most from this experience. 
  1. My intense dislike for teasel, thistle and buckthorn. I spent a good chunk of my summer removing these plants and at this point I just get angry when I see them. If you aren’t already familiar with these horrific invasive plants, please take the time to recognize them so you can take them out yourselves when you see them because they are nasty and should be removed from this earth. You will need gloves for teasel and Canada thistle because they're covered in thorns.
  2. I have made many friends, most of which are dogs and ducks. My boss, Dana has three ADORABLE dogs who I had to win the hearts of this summer (arguably my biggest task). Coco, a french poodle, is the sweetest, most energetic dog and I might end up stealing her by the end of the summer. Mr. Wiener and Bella (wiener dogs) can be lovingly characterized by their food obsession and hobbies which include laying in the sun and watching people eat. As for the ducks, I guess you can say we became close when I started working on the slough and quickly realized they weren’t going to move no matter how close I got to them. The ducklings are the cutest and yes I’ve thought about stealing them too.
  3. My bosses: Agnes, Dana and Peter. I could write an entire article dedicated to how amazing these people are and how much I will miss them. Agnes is the most ambitious, intelligent and humble person I have met and practically everything I have learned is attributed to her. She has taught me to never give up and has revived my passion for nature. Dana on the very first day gave me a key to his home and told me if I ever needed anything to not hesitate and that moment alone showed me the quality of his character. I will never forget his consistent morning smiles and greetings or his down to earth personality. Also, he is an incredibly talented artist and his work is amazing. Lastly, Peter has been working by my side for most of the summer and I couldn't imagine how dull the days would have been without him. I have shared my thoughts, laughs and moments with him and he reminded me how sincere and kind a soul can be. 
These three are some of the down to earth and genuine people I have ever met and our relationships stem much deeper than our common interests in ecology and nature. They each have stolen a piece of my heart and I will miss them dearly along with the beautiful areas I have worked in. I can’t wait to return in the future and thank you to the city and park district for this memorable experience.

Kurt Dreisilker is Next Up for Nature Speaks

The Nature Speaks program picks up again with our fall speaker Kurt Dreisilker, Head of Natural Resources at the Morton Arboretum. 

In Dreisilker's presentation "Invasive Plant Prevention  at Morton Arboretum" you will learn how this public garden controls invasive woody species by using several unique resources, such as: ninety two years of history, 1700 acres of living collections surrounded by natural areas, a herbarium, and numerous naturalists employed over time who recorded information about the regional flora.  The presentation will share examples and insights into how The Morton Arboretum deals with plant invasions and evaluates the plant collections for invasive species.

Since 2004, Kurt Dreisilker has developed and led the natural resource program at The Morton Arboretum.  As the Head of Natural Resources he leads and implements ecological restoration programs and projects throughout 900 acres of the Arboretum, including oak woodlands, wetlands, and prairies.

The presentation will take place September 27, 2016.  All programs take place at the Prospect Heights Public Library's Borland meeting room and start promptly at 7:00. Nature Speaks is free admission but registration is necessary. On-line registration will be open soon.

Click here to learn more.
Mow path at the ConEd Prairie

PHNRC Creates Mow Paths for Public Access

It's been a learning curve for everyone. There are fine lines between what is best for the environment, public perception and and maximizing the perfect balance between wildlife and mankind. 

As a commission, we are always listening to resident feedback and go out of our way to reach out and explain, educate, and when really necessary and practical, compromise to accommodate the management plans to resolve conflict. 

Where fire is our best land management tool for our restorations, communication and dialogue are the two best tools we have for resolving conflict. It is important for residents to know you can get immediate dialogue with the commission by emailing us at

In a continuing effort to enhance the quality of the natural experience, PHNRC has recently created a mow path through the heart of the ComEd bike path prairie and a hiking path through the slough to bring the public access up close and personal with nature.

Working with the Prospect Heights Public Works Department, a winding, walking mow path was established and will be maintained by the department. "The idea accomplishes two things," said Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "First, it makes it very easy for residents and the general public to get out into the prairie and experience it very intimately. To be able to walk right up to and examine plants, flowers, insects and pollinators. It also encourages the public to stay on the path and off of emerging native plants and away from nesting birds."

At the Slough, a hiking trail has been carved out that starts at the plantings on Hillside Avenue, goes through the woodlands, through the basin over the tributary creek, into Isaac Walton park and onto the west side of the slough, exiting on Marion. The path accomplishes exactly what it was set out to do, provide the public with a safe journey through a biodiverse wetland that changes it's appearance depending on the conditions, every few hundred yards.

Signage to mark out the trails at both sites is in the works and maps of the areas will be available as soon as the GPS work has been completed.
Hiking trail at the Slough

What's new at the Slough?

One of three observed broods of wood ducks                  Aquatic plantings taking effect
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