March 2017

Life Begins Again

 As we enter the holiest of days, the process of death, rebirth and awakening does not escape me. As a recovering Catholic, the one positive message that did engrain itself, was that of death, rebirth and awakening to a better and higher place. I have suffered many such cycles in my lifetime and survived them all. I learned early on from Mother Nature, that this sort of cycle is commonplace.

Recently, the PHNRC conducted it's first prescribed burn of the entire Slough. It was an amazing and dynamic event. I have burned before but it was never on this scale, with this degree of complexity and so close to home with so much at stake. While I am completely in sync with the analytical science behind it, I was not prepared for the artistry that became me, an artist. The sheer beauty and the aftereffects astounded me.
Photos courtesy of PHNRC Commissioner John Kamysz
Burning is an art in every sense of the word. In painting, there is a certain amount of simultaneous predictability and surprise if you load up a brush and and attack a canvas. It was no different dropping fire. Prescribed burning is a science that is approached in very meticulous and methodical ways. In fact, if the stars do not align, you do not burn that day. And yet as predictable as it can be, it's that tiny bit of changing wind direction, wind speed or increase in humidity that can cause spontaneous and unexpected results. Perhaps it's a hidden pocket of volatile cattails that unexpectedly explode with complete exuberance and a life affirming display of death.

In the quiet aftermath, when all the signs are down, the smoke has cleared, the spectators and burn crew have gone, it's no different than sitting in front of a painting at the Louvre or the Art Institute and getting lost in that silent, mesmerizing world before you. Just as an artist transforms a blank canvas into the inner visions of a world unto its own, so did we, transform a dormant, grey landscape into a black, Dr. Seussian landscape of foreboding charred black silhouettes.
The final part of the life, death/rebirth experience comes from the emergence of new, stronger, fire tolerant native vegetation and new species from seeds lying dormant for even hundreds of years in the native seed bank, waiting patiently for their opportunity to spring to life. And with it comes the increase of wildlife and birds that use that rebirth of habitat. Just as new dormant species emerge from the ground, so will new creatures arrive to enjoy that bounty.
I can't wait for life to begin again.

It's Time To Support Our Park District!

This Earth Month, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is collaborating with The Walt Disney Company, including Disney Citizenship, Disney|ABC Television Group and ESPN, to revitalize parks across the U.S. for a third year. The agency that receives the most nominations will receive a $20,000 grant to improve a local park.
Parks help make our lives better. They inspire healthy living, help protect the environment and bring people together, something we need now more than ever!. Our local parks make Prospect Heights an even better place to live and shape so many of our lives. Parks are essential to our health and well-being, provide safe places to be active and enjoy nature—and they help preserve the environment and bring people together.

That’s why from April 1 to April 30 we all have the opportunity to nominate the Prospect Heights Park District to receive $20,000 in grant funding to make improvements at a local park. Please support PHPD and PHNRC this Earth Month by visiting Visit and nominating the Prospect Heights Park District to improve a park!

This Earth Month, let’s show what parks mean to our community by nominating the Prospect Heights Park District. Please encourage your friends to nominate our partner organization, the Prospect Heights Park District by taking a selfie in your favorite park and using the hashtags #MeetMeAtThePark, #Parkies and #BeInspired.

You could win, too! When you nominate the Prospect Heights Park District, you’ll be entered into a contest to win a tablet outfitted for the outdoors. The agency with the most nominations at the end of April will receive the funding.
All photos courtesy of Commissioner John Kamysz

PHNRC Completes Slough Burn

The second prescribed burn of the Prospect Heights Slough was conducted on March 21, 2017. It was the most complete burn of the Slough to date and in it's history for all we know. A difficult and very technical burn because of it location in the middle of residential neighborhoods and a major road way in Elmhurst Road, the burn was conducted under perfect conditions with great accuracy. 

“Native prairies and wetlands really need periodic fires because it kills encroaching woody vegetation, especially buckthorn seedlings,” said Agnes Wojnarski, PHNRC chairperson. “Contained fires not only destroy the invasive woody plants, they encourage native plants to thrive in their absence,” she continued. "A prescribed burn also provides excellent nutrients for the plants and the black ash provides much needed warmth from the sun. Further, burns may activate the long dormant native seed bank that is present at the slough. We are now anxiously awaiting to see what plants appear in the next several weeks."

Prescribed burns are the single most effective tool for removal of invasive buckthorn, other woody vegetation, and fire intolerant species. Burning saves countless hours of volunteer labor, while promoting strong new growth of fire tolerant native plants. Burning is necessary to achieve a healthy, biodiverse habitat.
"There are some native plants that actually need a burn to germinate and many varieties can lay dormant for decades just waiting for a fire to occur,” stated Commissioner Dana Sievertson. “We are hopeful that some rare native plants could be resurrected through this procedure” he added.

The sight of fire and smoke could be alarming in a residential neighborhood but the level of meticulous planning, scientific study, and fire safety that goes into these burns makes them very safe. The Prospect Heights Police and Fire Departments were monitored during a portion of the burn.
"Today was truly painless for the Fire Department, said  Deputy Fire Chief Tim Jones. "Not one issue or concern. Nice work."
The NRC followed up the burn with an all out assault of native seeds. "Spring and summer here will be truly enjoyable," remarked commissioner Jill Moskal. " We are very fortunate to enjoy the trust of the residents and the city agencies."

Nature Speaks : Doug Taron

Do Not miss this next Nature Speaks when our good friend Doug Taron, presents his awesome talk “The Monarch and its Migration" on April 19th at 7:00 in the Morland Room at the PH Public Library. This amazing presentation explores the life cycle and the incredible migration of this most determined and well known species of butterflies.

Making his second appearance for Nature Speaks, Mr. Taron is the Curator of Biology and Vice President of Research and Conservation at Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

The monarch is the best known butterfly species in the world.  Its life cycle is closely tied to its amazing migration.  Doug will explore both the life cycle and the migration as well as discussing the butterfly's behavior on its wintering grounds in Mexico, efforts both in Mexico and Illinois to track population fluctuations, and conservation issues surrounding the monarch.  Learn what you can do from your own home to aid in conserving this iconic insect.  The program is free but you must register. Click here to register. Time is running out, space is limited.

Volunteers Seed After the Burn

As the second part of a one two punch, PHNRC Volunteers met for a work day to seed in over 30 lbs of native wetland and prairie seeds representing over 50 species. "The timing of this is very important," Commented PHNRC Chair Agnes Wojnarski. "We wanted to get the best seed to soil contact when the earth is still bare after the burn, while maximizing the potential of a good rain right afterwards". As if Mother Nature was listening, the rain started right after the last seeds were put down.

"It is the intention that by reintroducing some plant species that are absent from the surrounding area, we can increase the biodiversity," said PHNRC Commissioner Ed Madden. "This in turn, will increase the amount and types of insects, birds and other wildlife that have specific requirements or plant species interactions." "We intended to do this on our regular Sunday work day following the burn," added Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "With rain forecasted for the entire weekend, we moved the work day to Wednesday evening. It is a real testimony to the commitment of our volunteers that so many would show up to get all the seed down in such a small window of opportunity before the rains start again. Everyone will get the payback when things start coming up"

The NRC also planted 12 native plum shrubs along Elmhurst Road. "The intention here," said Chairperson Agnes Wojnarski, "is to replace the wall of invasive buckthorn that did not provide any value, into a beautiful thicket of wild plums that can be used by wildlife and provide beautiful early spring blooms that are aesthetically pleasing to the community. These native plums are also edible and extremely tasty. It will be great fun to walk along Elmhurst Rd someday, enjoying the wildlife, while handpicking a sweet, native Illinois plum."

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