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December 2016

2016, The Year That Was!


It is impossible to believe that another full year has come and gone. It has become a PHNRC December tradition to pause and reflect back on the things that we have accomplished over the year. This year, there is much to remember as this was our best year ever.

January 2016, we welcomed Al Steffen as the new Police Chief of Prospect Heights and very quickly understood what a great appointment the city had made. As a naturalist from boyhood on, Chief Steffen has become a great friend and supporter of the NRC.

In what could have been the most significant event of the entire year, the Commission received the unbelievable anonymous donation of a paid summer intern, something we could have only dreamed of but so dramatically changed the landscape. 
Prospect Heights Police Chief Al Steffen                          John McCabe
Nature Speaks saw our good friend John McCabe, Director of the Department of Resource Management for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County come out on a cold January to talk fire while Agnes told us all about mosses and lichening it.

February 2016 started in high gear with a work day visit from Prospect Heights based Jail Bars Jeep Club and the Scouts of Troop 166 out of Arlington Heights. Needless to say it was a very interesting and highly productive workday at the Morava site.
Jail Bars Jeep Club and PHNRC Chair                             Volunteers at Morava February 2016
The Commission also announced its Park District classes for the coming spring and summer sessions featuring bird walks, plant ID, childrens programs and prairie walks.

March 2016 saw the City Council vote to treat Hillcrest Lake with aquatic herbicides to vacate native elodea, in stark opposition to the recommendations of the PHNRC.
Hillcrest Lake                                                                     Tully Park before                  
Residents of the Tully Park area met with the Commission asking for assistance in trying to procure and naturalize the landlocked 1.3 acre site. The property of the Prospect Heights Park District, it was slated to be given to a local area church, a fate that was reversed later in the year.

Substantial progress was being made by hearty volunteers at the Morava center site, Doug Taron was next up for Nature Speaks, Commissioners took burn training certification and Public Works began prepping the west slough for the first ever prescribed burn conducted in Prospect Heights.

April 2016  With turtles as co-pilots, the PHNRC conducted the first ever prescribed burn at the Slough in late March. Burning on the west side of the Slough, the burn area comprised a .6 acre parcel and was burned under the watchful eye of the Prospect Heights Fire Department who left early having watched the efficient burn crew safely work its way through the burn site.

The burn crew consisted of 3 PHNRC Commissioners, ecologist Izabella Redlinski, all disciples of McCabe and Rick McAndless a steward from Poplar Creek Prairie and longtime PHNRC friend.
Burn photo Courtesy of Patrick Colvin                              Turtles take it all in
Armed with 3 greenhouses and additional shared facilities in reserve the aim of the greenhouse program this year was to grow 20,000 native plugs from some 80 species. "The great thing about this program is that our seed source is local and collected by our volunteers in the late summer through fall," said Commissioner Peter Hahn. "That makes this a very sustainable program that we can control completely." 

With the phenomenal work from the volunteers, the program exceeded our wildest imaginations. Over 30,000 plants were propagated and placed in all of the local restorations. PHNRC Volunteers also planted the generous native shrub donations from Ken Schaeffer at Oakton Community College.

April concluded as we met the new powerhouse Executive Director of the Park District Christina Ferraro and were thoroughly entertained and informed by Nature Speaks' Doug Taron. Christina and the NRC have become fast friends and developed a strong working relationship while Doug committed to a return visit in 2017 to give his presentation on the Monarchs. The Park District is in very good hands!
Park District Executive Director Christina Ferraro             Nature Speaks' Doug Taron
May 2016 The month of May saw the City actually proceed with the application of herbicide to Hillcrest Lake. City Administrator Joe Wade chose the Clark Company to do the application in part because of their sensitivity to to the environment. Unable to create biomaps because of the shallowness of the "lake", Clark relied on rake tests to determine the areas of highest concentrations of the native elodea to target with the chemical treatments.

The commission also selected their first ever summer intern. Armed with a very generous donation from an anonymous donor and an extensive search and interview process, the commission selected Daniella Sanchez as their intern. 
"All of the applicants were amazing," said Commissioner Peter Hahn. "We could have selected any one of them and been completely happy with the selection, but Daniella clearly rose above." he added.
Dr Wojnarski and Daniella Sanchez                      The Tully Park Crew
May also saw the start of a few work days with the residents of Tully Park under the guidance of the NRC. Our first work day we removed more buckthorn in a single day than we ever have in our history," commented PHNRC Chair Agnes Wojnarski. You will recall back in March, the Park District reversed course with the pending plan to allow residents of Tully Park to naturalize the land-locked park with assistance from the commission.

Finally, the new round of NRC/PD classes kicked off with the ever popular and always well attended bird walks with the Bird Conservation Network's Mary Lou Mellon and Lee Ramsey. "Mary Lou and Lee are absolute gems. Their knowledge of birds, their keen insights and passion make every walk an absolute treasure of an experience," said one camper.
BCN Bird Walk                                                                   Slough Restoration Map
June 2016 saw the commission release the Slough Restoration master plan and summer intern Daniella Sanchez kicked into high gear. The goal of the restoration was to strike a balance between restoration and preservation of the Slough with public access for the enjoyment of the residents. No one saw the impact that Daniella would have on the NRC and our projects. "Her efforts and accomplishments are well documented in the Journal articles we did on her, but suffice to say she exceeded our every expectation," commented commissioner Dana Sievertson.

June also saw the greenhouse program kick into high gear and the donation of a Turborain solar powered micro drip irrigation system while native Michigan Lilies made their way up from the seed bank after years of buckthorn  suppression.
Michigan Lillies at the Slough                                     Shoreline Restoration at the Morava Nature Preserve
In July 2016 the lead story was the awarding of the NRC's second ComEd/Openlands grant of 10,000.00, matched by the Park District and the City for 5,000.00 each, totalling 20,000.00 for the creation of the Morava Nature Preserve. Formerly a discarded wasteland, owned by the Park District, it was a testament to the collective vision of Executive Director Christina Ferraro and NRC Chair Agnes Wojnarski to see the potential of this hidden gem and bring it to life with this extraordinary funding opportunity.

As a major summer event the commission also led a full scale war on invasive teasle and Canada thistle at the remnant sedge meadow and remnant prairie where it was invading the local seed sources. Capitalizing on the summer intern, Commissioner Peter Hahn devoted his summer to the attack working hand-in-glove with Daniella. Commissioner Wojnarski, Marek Wrobel and the Dynamic Duo formed the core team that spent countless summer hours in the effort and in the end, had a huge impact on the infestations. Several work days were committed to the work day as well.

July also saw Commissioners Dana and Agnes travel to Champaign Urbana to interview legendary genius and renowned eccentric Dr. John Hilty of illinoiswildflowers.org fame. The 5 part interview continues on into 2017.
Agnes poses with a stranger in Urbana in place of Dr. Hilty                           Wood ducks at the Slough
Mow Path at the ComEd Prairie Restoration                      Mow Path at the Slough
The NRC also began work on mow paths at the Slough and the ComEd prairie Restoration for public access and enjoyment of the natural areas with the help of Prospect Heights Public Works, while 3 broods of Wood Ducks appeared at the Slough to the surprise and absolute delight of everyone involved in the restoration.

August 2016 saw broken hearts all around with the departure of our summer intern Daniella Sanchez. What we never saw coming was what a life changing experience it was for all of us. More than just an intern, we adopted a daughter, found a compatriot, a champion of the Slough and a life long friend, all rolled into one. We worked really hard together and achieved beyond all expectations in an atmosphere of of love and mutual respect. We learned from each other, sweat, bled and laughed together.

The summer also saw plantings. Lots of plantings. Close to 25,000 to be sure. As a testament to the sheer tenacity of the volunteer thousands of plugs were installed at the Morava Nature Preserve, Tully Park, the Slough and the Izaak Walton park sign, the ComEd Prairie restoration and several of the Grow it Don't Mow It test sites.
Dr Wojnarski Gets the Taz Test                                        Didier Nolet
Renown French landscape artist was so taken back but the beauty of the Slough and the prairie that he committed to doing a series of paintings based on the environs of Prospect Heights with a show and talk to be held at the Prospect Heights Public Library in September of 2017. The PHNRC also committed to a special edition of Nature Speaks to present an historical overview of the organization and the evolution of our projects.

PHNRC Chairperson Dr. Agnes Wojnarski became one of three finalists for the 10th congressional districts Friends of the Environment Award. "I was honored and very pleased to have been nominated by my peers in Prospect Heights for this distinction and very happy to have been selected as a finalist," said Agnes. "Everyone here tonight was a winner."

Chris Anchor spoke at Nature Speaks and everybody listened. A captivating and entertaining speaker, Chris reviewed his 30 year role as the Senior Wildlife Biologist at the Forest Preserves of Cook County and his role as an innovator of tracking devices and the role they play.
Dr Wojnarski with Congressman Bob Dold                        The Mother of Invention
Finally, plagued with the task of a summer full of lugging 5 gallon containers full of water and hand watering plantings, the light bulb went on and PHNRC reached out to Bill Petersen of Turborain to donate a solar rain pump to be used in conjunction with a 125 gallon water tank to enable drive by watering with a 50' garden hose. Awesome.

September 2016 saw the return of the Dr. Hilty story and a lot of important work got done at all of the sites. We reconstructed the foot bridge at the slough, lit the Izaak Walton sign with solar power, enjoyed crazy good bird walks with BCN and kicked the shoreline restoration at the Morava Nature Preserve into high gear. 
Volunteers Planting the Shoreline at Morava                    Agnes and Rick McAndless of Poplar Creek 
Rick McAndless from the Poplar Creek Stewards visited the NRC to drop off a donation of seed drying racks. The rack allowed for the consolidation of 120 square feet of floor space into a vertical footprint of 12 square feet. The commission also worked on the possibility of a seed/plug exchange with Fermilab Natural Areas while Nature Speaks hosted Kurt Dreisilker from the Morton Arboretum and announced feature speakers Abigail Derby Lewis, Doug Taron and Kristin DaPra and John McCabe. Volunteers were happy to have received traffic control barriers for Slough work days from the Chief of Police Al Steffen.
Super Scout Sam and Agnes                                             Peter Hahn and Karl Humbert
In October, The commission received permission from the City Council and the Park District to conduct a second prescribed burn of the Slough, however favorable conditions never came about before the snow fell in December.

Meanwhile Eagle Scout Sam Sobczak arranged for the architectural firm of Chipman-Design in Des Plaines to entertain the possibility of pro-bono design work on the interpretive bridge for the Morava Nature Preserve project. The commission also completed its seed exchange with Fermilab Natural Areas. Work on projects continued at a frantic pace while seed collection started to wind down.

November was no slouch either. Seed collection this year was a record breaker. Volunteer enthusiasm for collecting seed was at a high and as a result, we ended up with 110 pounds of collected seed representing 134 species. November also saw the first ever Volunteer Appreciation Day. Arriving on the heels of the final seed processing day, the volunteers enjoyed mulled wine, a potluck feast and kielbasa roast before the presentation of the Golden Loppers to the volunteer of the year, Karl Humbert. Special recognition was also given to Commissioner Peter Hahn for his enormous contributions to the program this year. This Commission simply does not exist without the goodwill and hard work of our loyal and dedicated volunteers.

As we close out 2016, we would like to thank all of you who have contributed in any way to the great success 2016 has been. Our fantastic volunteers who collectively logged in 1,100 hours of labor this year, the City, Park District, Fire and Police departments, all of our friends and counterparts at restoration programs throughout the region and even disgruntled residents who taught us how to think differently and make it all work, it took everybody. Certainly the collective efforts this year have been great as have the results.

Our sincere tanks and appreciation to all. We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday and all the best for another prosperous and joyful new year.
Ratibita pinnata in the webmasters garden

Out and About With Dr. Hilty



Still reeling from the revelation that Dr. Hilty's brain and hard drive were one, I fell back into the conversation that Agnes and Dr. Hilty were having. "The floral/faunal relationships of mosses are unknown," he was explaining. "Wait, what, I said, What are we talking about?" "Mosses," was the answer. "Mosses". He continued to explain that he was looking to understand and publish that information.

Agnes had asked him what was next; where did he see his research going and would the website be expanding. Continuing on with the thematic obsession for details and the sheer love of small things, Dr. Hilty had fallen in love with the silent and uneventful world of mosses. An avid reader of natural and social science publications, his interest was once again peeked by an obscure book he had read on mosses and allowed to ferment in his fertile mind.

"I very quickly realized that there were no distribution maps for mosses and that I would have to create them," he explained. Agnes and I looked at each other from the corner of an eye with the telepathic understanding of, "I know where this is going". He continued on, "I decided that in order to do this research correctly, I would have to use the historical records of the states herbariums as my data source. I would just have to compile the information myself. Would you like to see it?"  "Absolutely," we said and he shuffled out of the room to retrieve god only knows what. We were now conditioned to not be shocked by anything. We stared at each other in stunned silence, eventually comparing notes on eccentricity, the magnitude of his brain power and the absolute disbelief that he was allowing us an audience.

After a few minutes, Dr. Hilty reappeared. He plopped down the equivalent of 3 reams of unbound paper stacked on top of each other, not a single sheet misaligned. "Well, here it is!" he exclaimed with the exuberance of a school boy turning in a 6th grade science project. I had one immediate and overwhelming reaction. "Please tell me you did not key punch all of this in yourself." His head dropped as he blushed and sheepishly admitted, "Yes, I did." The laughter was immediate and rattled the windows. We laughed to the point of tears as the the collective vision of Dr. Hilty in his pajamas keypunching in page 1000 at 4:30 in the morning floated above us like sugarplums. To fully understand the genus/insanity of all of this, it is important to know what went into the compilation of the source material.

Dr. Hilty quickly realized that all of the counties in Illinois had herbariums.
"I visited the website, Consortium of North American Bryophyte Herbariums (bryophyteportal.org/portal)," he explained. "Most herbarium collections for mosses and liverworts in Illinois can be found in 12 herbariums of this website. These herbariums include those that are associated with the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois, Southern Illinois University, Field Natural History Museum, and other organizations. I was able to access collection records for each herbarium online, using a search engine that was organized by state and county. The information that came up on my computer monitor as a result of this search engine was transcribed and I updated the scientific names of the herbarium records to reflect modern standards. That information is being used to create the distribution maps for mosses and liverworts in Illinois." The 3 ream manifesto was the final product, waiting to be incorporated into the website.

NOTE: Dr. Hilty has already created a 'Mosses and Liverworts Section' on the homepage of the website. That section links to several web pages that  have already created for several species of mosses and liverworts that he has photographed.

As the topic of lunch started to surface, Agnes asked Dr. Hilty if he had any other areas where he could see website expansion. "I have always been interested in social systems and their parallels to nature and the evolution of natural systems," he said, But I am not sure how that has anything to do with the website, maybe it is a separate website, a completely different project. I am also very fascinated," he continued, "with the idea of habitats of disturbed urban environments."  "Anything else?" I added. "Vertebrate animals," he said as we headed out the door for lunch. It was then that the subject of the webmasters garden came up. "Would you like to see the webmasters garden before we leave? 

The anticipation was enormous, finally we get to see the famed webmasters garden. We had speculated on the drive down that the garden was this huge, a sprawling land of enchantment containing all of the species featured in the pictures on the website. We were right about one thing, all of the species featured on the website were there when the seasonal timeline manifested them. We could not have been more wrong about everything else. As we came around the corner of the barrack, we were confronted by a garden no more that 20' x 30', fenced in by a 5' wire mesh like a makeshift kennel in a puppy mill. Once again, "What?" came rolling off of my tongue without any kind of filter. I think Agnes was stunned as well but she has way more social grace than I do.

We stood in disbelief and somewhat astonished at what we were looking at. How on earth was it possible to cram so many native species into such a tiny plot of land and have them not only grow but have them be exemplary representatives of the species. Once again, the genius of Dr. Hilty had transcended the  boundaries of common sense. I could only imagine what going to "his favorite place" for lunch would entail.

Next month: ...It has to be around here somewhere.....
The webmasters garden

Christmas Comes Early for NRC


In an extraordinary run on events, Christmas came early for the Natural Resources Commission. December has brought the news that last year's anonymous donors have decided to repeat their generous gift and fund another intern position for the summer 2017. As if that was not enough, the Park District's Executive Director Christina Ferraro notified the commission that they will also fund a summer intern position giving the commission two interns next summer.

"The addition of another summer intern for the PHNRC is fantastic news," commented Commissioner John Kamysz. "Our previous intern was so productive, and we had to turn a lot of great other individuals away.  This will tremendously add to the restoration production of our team,  and hence the beauty of Prospect Heights natural areas." 

"The generosity of our donors, volunteers and the Park District never ceases to amaze me," added Chairperson Agnes Wojnarski. "This kind of gift benefits everyone; the commission, the residents, the environment, the Park District, the City, the animals and most importantly the two interns that will receive the positions. We could not be happier or more appreciative," she concluded.
From left to right: Rebecca Buchmeier, Peter Hahn, Agnes Wojnarski, Dana Sievertson, Sam Sobczak, Micah Shadowen, Bob Wirsing, Chris Sullivan and Juan Zavala.

PHNRC Begins Talks With Chipman-Design


Commissioners from the Resources Commission recently traveled to the architectural firm of Chipman-Design in Des Plaines for preliminary talks about the design work required for the interpretive bridge to be incorporated into the Morava Nature Preserve project. In a meeting set up by Eagle Scout and PHNRC super volunteer Sam Sobczak, commissioners met with the Chipman team headed up by Hospitality Design Director, Rebecca Buchmeier.

 "Sam is one outstanding individual," said Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "He is not afraid to dream big. This is not your normal Eagle Scout project. What Sam has done here is enlisted one of the country's most distinguished architectural firms to design the
interpretive bridge pro bono which is of great value to the project, the community and a real feather in Sam's cap. We could not be more proud of him or more appreciative of the generosity of Chipman Design. Their contribution is of enormous value to us."  "We appreciate the opportunity to assist Sam and the PHNRC in this project and making a difference in Prospect Heights," added Chipman's Rebecca Buchmeier.

The design discussions focused on permitting, fixed and suspension solutions, the possibility of a recycled bridge and defining the roles and responsibilities of members.  The meeting concluded with Chipman's commitment to the project  including the creation of an internal design competition.  Chipman plans to have the proposed solutions available by February 2017.

 

The Eagle Among Us  
A Commissioner's First Hand Account



I have the good fortune of being able to observe Hillcrest Lake on a daily basis.  Two days after Thanksgiving this year, among the usual seagulls, Canadian geese and mallard ducks, a particularly large bird was swooping around low over the lake.  It clearly was not the several redtail hawks or owls I see in the area, it was larger.  On closer inspection, I saw its bald white head and snow white tail feathers and realized our Bald Eagle had returned for some lunch.  I'd seen him once before in the distance about a month earlier.  This time he was here for a prolonged visit as he scanned the lake with several turns and finally dove to the lake surface, crashing its surface with its talons and arising with a nice twelve inch fish.  He carried it to a tree on the east side of the lake and began eating it under the mid afternoon sun.  I was able to affix my spotting scope on it, and took several digital photographs of it, but it was still at some distance for a clear shot.

When finished, he took off again, and did the familiar swoop, all the other birds cleared out for his acrobatics, and on his second attempt for another fish, he missed!  He now flew to a tree on the west side of the lake and perched, overlooking the entire scene, in no particular hurry.  Luckily, this perch was only about 50 yards from me and my scope, and I was able to capture multiple zoomed in shots of the majestic bird.  His "bald" head was mildly spotted with darker feathers indicating a juvenile eagle, but nearing adulthood very soon.  His stern look, curved yellow hooked beak, broad wings and thickly tufted legs all clearly visible, and confirming its bold strength and character, and making me realize first hand why this bird is our national symbol.

Bald eagles have traditionally been very rare if not completely absent in the Chicago area for decades.  They have been sighted with more frequency along our river waterways, most often the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, however sightings away from these areas are much less frequent.  Recently, a nesting pair has been seen at nearby Busse Woods Forest Preserve, and one would have to wonder if this particular bird is one of those, or perhaps one of their offspring looking for more hunting territory.  Either way, the health of the Slough and Hillcrest Lake area in Prospect Heights, and the restoration work that has been done in the past several years, (and still being done), is a testament to its success. 

The variety of birds being sighted in the area has grown exponentially, as the invasive plant species such as buckthorn has been removed, and native grass and tree species of Northeast Illinois have been allowed to return.  Native species allow the more numerous and healthy insect species to thrive, and thus the entire food chain benefits.  The sighting of Bald Eagles on the lake also bring attention to the health of it in particular, and the quality of the water and fish population within it.  This clearly is a waterway to be respected and cared for not only for our human enjoyment, but that from which our enjoyment of it arises, the return of wildlife and its utilization of the nourishment it provides for survival.

                                                                           PHNRC Commissioner John Kamysz

What's New at the Sites. 

Mayor Helmer, Volunteer of the Year Karl Humbert, City Administrator Joe Wade and the Golden Loppers
Copyright © 2016 Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission, All rights reserved.


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