April 2016
Photo courtesy of Patrick Colvin

PHNRC Conducts First Prescribed Burn at the Slough

Late March saw the Resources Commission conduct its first prescribed burn in Prospect Heights. Burning a .6 acre parcel on the west side of the slough bordered by Marion and Maple, the burn went off without a hitch.

Prospect Heights Public Works did the heavy lifting, clearing out a stand of dead ash trees in the burn area. At the urging of the NRC, a few were dropped into the slough as basking sites for resident turtles who watched the burn from their new perch.

Commissioners spent time before the burn preparing the site by raking leaf litter, dried bark and other fuel away from the remaining dead ash and other healthy trees in areas of abundant fuel. The area consisted of a few assorted woodland grasses and a mix of reed canary and cattails. 
Photos courtesy of Patrick Colvin
The burn plan called for creating burn breaks on the north and south ends of the site and then conducting a slow, steady strip burn with the headwind to ensure a good result. "We got the job done today," said burn boss and PHNRC Chairperson Agnes Wojnarski. "We had very patchy fuel so it did not burn as completely as we would like, but we certainly accomplished what we needed to do."

The Prospect Heights Fire Department came out in a back up roll and very quickly dismissed concern. "We were impressed with how organized the PHNRC crew was for the first open burn, it was a nice job, said Fire Chief Timothy Jones. "The Fire District and our members are happy to support the PHNRC in making Prospect Heights beautiful," he concluded.

In addition to a few curious residents, Park District Executive Director Christina Ferraro was also in attendance. "It was very interesting to see how the process is managed to put a burn plan into action," said Ferraro. "It was obvious that safety and control were top priorities; the fire department was on-site; each member of the burn crew understood their role and were properly equipped with protective clothing, drip torches and backpack water pumps.  It’s a carefully planned process."

PHNRC would also like to give a big thanks to ecologist Izabella Redlinski and Rick McAndless, Steward from Poplar Creek Prairie for their help in conducting the burn.

With the spring burn season now over, the PHNRC is looking to conduct additional burns of their native plantings on the north and east side of the slough in the fall. Burning is the most effective tool in the tool box for restoration. It knocks back fire intolerant invasives, increases nutrients and promotes strong growth for the fire tolerant native species.

Click here to view the PHNRC Burn Video.
PHNRC Greenhouses are

Populating Prospect Heights.

The Natural Resources Commission has expanded its greenhouse program this year with the addition of two additional greenhouses. This will greatly increase the volume of native plant stock we will have available for our restoration projects at the Morava Center, Police Station, the ComEd bike path prairie restoration, the Slough and lake areas in addition to the "Grow it Don't Mow it" outreach program.

"We are growing 80 species of native plants in 3 greenhouses owned by Commissioners," said Agnes Wojnarski. "From the seedlings that are already germinating, we expect that we will grow more than 20,000 plugs of native plants this year in the three greenhouses. Thousands more are being grown by Horcher Farms and Oakton Community College greenhouses who generously donate greenhouse space every year."

"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." 

The cost savings to the commission is enormous. "As we are not funded outside of the few grants we have received, this is a very important part of what we do," commented Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "We could never afford to purchase native plants in these volumes."
"What is special about this years crop is that some of the seed collected came from the plants we planted as plugs last year at the Slough from the original ComEd grant, continued Wojnarski. "It's come full circle and that is very exciting to us."

Along with the increased greenhouse space has come an increase in the workload. "Having our first paid intern this year will certainly help," commented Wojnarski. "I think we are going to have to add a few work days just for this and that is a good problem," she concluded.
Oakton Donates Native Shrubs to PHNRC

Ken Schaeffer of Oakton Community College and long time friend of the Natural Resources Commission has donated 45 native shrubs for the PHNRC to use in its restoration efforts. 

Propagated at Oakton Community College, the donation consists of 8 different species of native shrubs shown below," said Agnes Wojnarski. "We intend to plant a few at all of our restoration sites starting with the Nature Preserve at the Gary Morava center.

"I think this speaks to the underlying compassion, camaraderie and willingness to help out that exists in the restoration community," commented Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "This is just another great example."
Buttonbush - Cephalanthus occidentalis                           Wild Plum - Prunus americanus                                        
Bladdernut - Staphylea trifolia                                           Shrubby St. Johns wort - Hypericum prolificum
Elderberry - Sambucus canadensis                                   Chokecherry - Prunus virginiana
Witch Hazel - Hamamelis virginiana                                   Gooseberry - Ribes missouriense

New Park District Executive Director
is a Cut Above

When we first met newly appointed Executive Director of the Prospect Heights Park District Christina Ferraro, it was at John McCabe's presentation for Nature Speaks. We were impressed with the immediate show of support. 

Fast forward a month and you very quickly realize this is not your garden variety civil servant. This is a woman on a mission. Super smart, inquisitive and intuitive, quick witted and fashion forward would be a very good description. 

In a recent conversation we asked Ferraro why she chose to come to Prospect Heights. She cited several factors; small town feel, parks with great potential but most importantly, it was the staff that makes up the Park District. "When you look at organizations," she explained, "and you see a staff that has been in place for a very long time, it is usually one of two things. One, they are people who are committed, dedicated and truly love their work and care about the organization or two, they have been there forever and maybe apathetic and not ambitious. Ultimately, I came to Prospect Heights because of the former." But beyond that, she was equally impressed with the city officials, the Police and Fire Departments. "This is a very close nit community and I really love the small town atmosphere," she added.

Ferraro is grounded in the understanding of why she does what she does and what a park district should be. "Park districts provide many services and programs for communities and as a result, park staff must wear many hats and need to change them often," she explained.  "I choose to do this because it blends so many  disciplines.  In all my years in this profession I have learned disciplines such as operations, maintenance, resource management, policing, nursing, counseling, teaching, etc. We allow our young patrons to learn about confidence, self-esteem, teamwork and interpersonal skills; we allow young employees to learn about communication, time management, integrity, and creativity; We allow all ages the opportunity to socialize, exercise, and continue learning new skills.  We basically provide something for everyone to do which helps people stay healthy. Not sure of other professions that blend all of these! In my view, parks are a 
fundamental element to a community"

We asked Christina about her vision for the parks and the park district. "I want to update the master plan; we need to keep up with maintaining the parks, the golf course and Gary Morava Recreation Center.  The parks are in good condition.  Staff has established a preventative maintenance plan to keep ahead of potential issues with playground equipment, unhealthy trees or shrubs. Keeping these places in top condition as we move along, helps us provide better programs and reduces costs in the future. It’s a challenge on a smaller budget."

"I want to evaluate our programs and what is being offered in proximity to Mt Prospect or River Trails park districts; I like that we work with those districts and not compete with them. I will also look to evaluate which of our parks may be underutilized and why that is the case.  I would look to try to change that. 
We also need to look at marketing – how we communicate with our residents is vital to what we do now and in the future," she concluded.
When we asked Christina what can Prospect Heights expect from her, she very quickly responded, "You can expect an honest and genuine team player who sees Prospect Heights in its entirety – not just the Park District.  “It takes a village ….” There has never been a truer statement.  It takes all groups to work together to serve the community:  the Parks (Prospect Heights, Mount Prospect and River Trails) City, Police, Fire, Library, the Natural Resources Commission and Schools.  I enjoy meeting residents and hearing their concerns or opinions about how we should improve or keep doing what we do well."
We're sure if you asked any of the residents of the Tully Park area, they would totally agree. 

We find the new Director to be forward thinking, progressive and are looking forward to working with her and the Park District Board to continue improving green space, restoring habitat and improving the quality of life for residents and wildlife.  Another solid hire for Prospect Heights.

Doug Taron Flies 

The Nature Speaks spring guest speaker, Doug Taron, gave his spellbinding presentation on "Butterflies of the American Prairie" to a full house at the Prospect Height Public Library. Taron's talk centered around a seemingly endless barrage of high quality photographs, all but one taken by himself. Quite an accomplished photographer, it was also very easy to see why he is one of the top experts in the field of butterflies.

Delivered with a keen sense of humor, the presentation was broken down into four parts, lifecycle, plants, habitat and conservation. Beginning with lifecycle, Doug walked us through the life cycle of a swamp meadow mark butterfly starting with mating, laying eggs, hatching, being a caterpillar and becoming a chrysalis then finally into a butterfly where the cycle starts all over again. Each of the steps were illustrated by Taron's excellent photographs.
Photos courtesy of Doug Taron
Taron then proceeded to present species after species of butterflies found in Northeastern Illinois based on plants and habitat.

There are many species that are plant specific such as the black swallowtails and plants in the carrot family like Queen Anne's lace, orange crescents and asters, the clouded sulphur and legumes like white clover. Others will use more than one type of plant.

Taron contrasted species found commonly in urban settings as he segued into habitat, with species found in specific types of habitat such as mesic and wet prairies, savannas, sedge meadows and his beloved Bluff Spring Fenn in Elgin. He also spoke about the three types of non-native butterflies; cabbage whites, European skippers and American coppers. The segment closed with and flowed nicely into the conservation portion with the discussion of endangered species.

Taron seemed particularly proud of the conservation work he oversees at the Peggy N
otebaert Nature Museum where he oversees several projects to try to propagate endangered species and return them back into the wild with the ultimate goal of re-establishing the species.

A lively twenty minute Q&A session followed the presentation where Taron's infectious personality and sense of humor were on full display. When asked how he got into butterflies and developed such a passion, his reply was "The Easter Bunny gave me a butterfly net for Easter when I was 7." It was an outstanding evening.

Interested in learning more about butterflies or becoming a
 butterfly monitor? Doug suggests going to 

Next up for Nature Speaks, Chris Anchor

Registration is now open for renowned Senior Wildlife Biologist for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Chris Anchor,  makes his presentation "Wildlife of the Chicagoland Area" On June 22nd, 2016. Mr. Anchor's presentation is an overview of wildlife and wildlife habitat management over the past three decades.

All Nature Speaks events take place at the Prospect Heights public library in the Borland Meeting Room and starts promptly at 7:00. Complete information about Nature Speaks can be found on our website at

Click here to register.

What's New at the Slough?

Marsh marigolds pop up from an ephemeral pool at the Slough. Now that's March Madness!

8 pairs of wood ducks and 4 pairs of blue winged teal are spotted on the slough on April 14th. You gotta see this.
  Male Wood Duck                                                              Blue-Winged Teal.
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