September 2016
Spiderwort in the webmasters's garden

Paging Dr. Hilty Part Deux

After an awkward but interesting introduction, we followed Dr. Hilty into a small, dark hallway engulfed in stale cigarette smoke to the community meeting room within the complex where we were told we would be interviewing him. It was probably just the lack of sleep and the long drive, but the entire complex had the ambience of an army barrack in the deep south for some reason. The room was seemingly featureless and non-descript, or at least it seem that way in the presence of Dr. Hilty. There may or may not have been a plaster fish painted silver, hanging on the wall in one corner next to some artificial flowers.

Still reeling from the revelation that I would not be able to conduct the interview I wanted to and having no idea what to do at this point, I blurted out, "Dr. Hilty, I just need a minute or two to think. You just killed 50% of my intended interview, I'm speechless for the moment. I just need a minute or two to re-adjust." Again, he stared at us for what seemed like eternity but surely was only seconds and began laughing hysterically. As we later learned, Dr. Hilty loves to laugh and does it with complete vigor. We came to understand it is a sign of affection or inclusion which eventually we actively participated in with the same vigor. Agnes picked up the conversation as I tried to recalibrate my thinking.

Having rediscovered direction, I was now committed to see if I could try to figure out how the man thinks and what went into the creation of this magnificent resource. At least I could try to give people a solid insight into that. 

It is important to know that the website consists of over 14,000 files, providing information on 1,200 of the 3,500 native or naturalized vascular plant species in Illinois and receives more that 12 million hits a year.
" Even more importantly, Dr. Hilty's Ph.D is in Social Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he engaged in teaching and research for several years. He had little interest or involvement in plants until he picked up a book on wildflowers and grasses of the tallgrass prairie and got interested. He studied plants for 3 years before he started his renowned 'webmasters garden' and for 5 years before he started his website." He is completely self taught by his endless and ongoing research and a laser guided focus. He simply devours and assimilates information.

A self-professed computer geek/nerd, it is his near compulsive intellectual obsessions that drive his work. "I have a restless mind," he said as he fidgeted in his chair. "I am obsessed with knowing all of the details." Agnes and I glanced at each other with the unspoken communication of "this guy never sleeps." I asked him about his normal work day and how many hours he works. "I have the feeling that you sort of work all hours of the day and night, what is your typical work day like?" I inquired. Again, the stare followed by a short burst of laughter and a sheepishly delivered, vague answer that amounted to confirmation of what we had already surmised. In Dr. Hilty's world, there appears to be no hierarchical time structure, it's just details, a mission and a commitment to excellence.

I questioned Dr. Hilty as to what the motivation was for creating, fully expecting an answer based in altruism and focused on the good of the community at large. His answer stunned us. "It's a memory feature, I can't remember things and I need a place to write them down."  "What?" blurted out of my mouth and hung in the air like a subtitle. "I was expecting you to say something about being your contribution to the good of mankind, what about all that?" His response was "Well, yeah, there is all that too but basically I can remember stuff. I need to write things down for future use." It was our turn to laugh and laugh we all did. When it finally died down, he went on to sincerely explain his commitment to excellence, that the sight has to evolve and above all, his attention to DETAIL and accuracy. 

Making it all the more absurd is the fact that he has an almost savant like photographic memory and easily recalled details for Agnes from the obscurest of pages with the greatest of ease. It hit us simultaneously; his website is a functional extension of his brain. His real intelligence and his artificial intelligence had merged. I was overcome with the sensation that his brain was now physically filling the room. In that moment we realized the brilliance of his thought process and his unbelievable capacity to process information. Genius, complete genius.

Next month: Mosses, the rest of the interview, the webmaster's garden, lunch and getting lost with Dr. Hilty. "It's gotta be around here somewhere."


Work at Morava Nature Preserve Continues

With the ComEd Openlands grant in place, The PHNRC and the Park District have begun to move into high gear on the efforts to restore the former buckthorn infested dump site into the Morava Nature Preserve. "We spent a part of last winter and a good part of last spring removing invasive buckthorn and trash," commented Commissioner Peter Hahn. "We spent this last summer removing invasives and starting to restore the shoreline with native plugs from our greenhouse program." he added.
To date, volunteers, summer intern Daniella Sanchez and Commissioners have planted out over 8,000 native plugs to restore the badly eroding shorelines and over 10 pounds of seed. 

Over the coming months, we will be making one last big push to control invasives and get more plugs into the shoreline. The winter months will see more focus on the permitting and design of the bridge between the highland and the lowland, completion of the buckthorn removal, and work on the interactive features for children.
PHNRC Volunteer Angelica augers holes in the shoreline for native plugs
Volunteers at the 9/25 work day planted out a record 2004 native plugs
PHNRC Chair Agnes Wojnarski and Rick McAndless from Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards with the "new" seed drying rack. 

Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards Donate Seed Equipment to PHNRC

The PHNRC has been very fortunate to have such great partnerships with so many prominent restoration programs. "We have always looked to form alliances and partnerships with everyone in the community of restoration," said PHNRC Commissioner Dana Sievertson. "With resources so scarce for all of us, it is important to work together to support each other and make the community stronger as a whole."

Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards is one of our partner organizations that has always been a big brother to us. One of the best things big brothers do is loan and hand things down. PHNRC has recently benefitted from the donation of an old seed drying rack. 

"This is really great," said PHNRC Chair Agnes Wojnarski. "This rack allows us to consolidate a 120 sq.ft. of floor space, which we don't have, into a 12 sq. ft. footprint," she continued. "Things just got much easier."

PHNRC is also currently working on a seed/plug exchange with the Fermilab Natural Areas program. That exchange will be ongoing through the end of this year and into next year. 

Please Do Not Feed the Ducks!

The old adage is change the habitat and you will change the inhabitants and we are seeing that in a big way now at the Slough.  The restoration efforts that PHNRC volunteers have made at the Slough over the last 2 1/2 years have resulted in big changes to the birds and wildlife that call it home or are simply passing through. Probably the most easy to notice is the increase in the duck population and the reduction in the goose population.

Unfortunately, we have also seen an increase in the number of people stopping and feeding the ducks. It is important to remember, DUCKS ARE WILD and the process of feeding them is robbing them of their natural instincts in addition to endangering their health.

Bread, crackers, chips, donuts, popcorn and cereal product are the things that are most commonly fed to wild ducks. All of these things are carbohydrate rich food for humans but offer no nutritional value to ducks or other water fowl and actually do harm. To waterfowl, this is junk food that if eaten in frequently, replaces a natural, healthy diet the birds would be eating on their own. The more people feed the ducks, the more it becomes their steady diet.

Perhaps the saddest effect is the fact that it is changing their behavior to the point where they have no fear of dogs, or people. Their normal and inherent "wild instincts" are all but gone, which also undermines their health and well being. "We can go out and string trim, brush cut or mow and it has no effect on them," explained Commissioner Sievertson.

If you really find yourself compelled to feeding the ducks, please try to follow these simple guidelines. Feed only foods that are safe for ducks and waterfowl. They are: Cracked corn, wheat, barley or similar grains, oats, rice, cooked or uncooked, bird seed of any type, grapes cut in half, frozen peas or corn, earthworms, mealworms, chopped lettuce or salad mixes without dressings, chopped vegetable peelings, or duck pellets.

Please, please. please, DO NOT feed: bread, chips, crackers or biscuits, popcorn or any kind of sugary foods.

Let's keep our wildlife wild!!
Chris Mest is a certified Arborist, PHNRC Butterfly Monitor and fulltime Tree Kisser 


About a month ago a fellow arborist and friend sent me an e-mail with an article about the number of trees on Earth. It referenced a recent study published in the magazine, Nature, which points out that scientists have discovered there are more trees on Earth than previously thought. This is because instead of just counting trees from aerial observations they have included trees counted from observations made on the ground. The latest figure is just over 3 trillion trees.

This sounds like good news right? Unfortunately, the study went on to point out a couple other numbers. 15 billion is the number of trees we are losing every year be it through natural death, catastrophes like Emerald Ash borer, diseases and destruction of the rain forest. 5 billion is the number of trees that are planted each year. Simple math will tell you that at that rate we are at a negative 10 billion trees each year. Let’s see, 3 trillion divided by 10 billion equals 300. That means, if things continue as they have been, there will be no more trees on Earth in 300 years!

So what do we do about it?

We need to plant more. Losing trees at the current rate of 3 to 1, we need to plant 4 to 1 to offset this and catch up. We need to start filling up empty spaces with trees. If we pay farmers not to grow crops, why not pay them to grow trees? If there are factories that are not in business that have fallow land going to waste, plant trees. Everywhere you drive, there are empty lots where trees could be planted.

We need to plant better. Most trees are planted without regard to guidelines put forth by the International Society of Arboriculture, Morton Arboretum or Landscape Associations, which are basically the same.  Leaving on the burlap, twine and steel cage shortens the life of the tree. Trees planted too deep don’t live as long as they should. These are all problems I have seen firsthand. If you hire someone to plant trees for you, educate yourself on the proper way of planting. This information is easily available online or you can contact me. Homeowners, associations and cities spend thousands of dollars a year or more on having trees planted and this money should not be wasted.

We let people too easily remove trees. Some towns have no ordinances at all when it comes to trees on private property. The Morton Arboretum is working with partners on ordinance templates to distribute to the towns in the 7 counties of Chicagoland through the Chicago Region Tree Initiative. I know this because I am on the committee that has been working on this project. I still think this is not enough. This is voluntary and only one level deals with trees on private property. We need to regulate who can work on trees and remove them. No more "anyone with a pickup truck and a chainsaw" doing work throughout Chicagoland. We need to train these people and make sure they are not just removing trees to make work and make a living.

I did a little research and found out the Prospect Heights does not have a tree removal ordinance. Without these constraints, trees are treated like things, and not the irreplaceable life forms they are. We need to protect the trees in our town better than this and I intend to work towards this end.

Trees are alive! While this may seem obvious but I point it out because sometimes they are treated like inanimate objects. Because they are alive they need care and nurturing throughout their lives.

As with any living thing; like a child or a pet, provisions should be made for the care of that life as time goes by and it gets older. When you get a pet you know you will have to spend money on vet bills, food, toys and various other things. When you have a child you know you will have to provide clothing, food, shelter, payment for other activities and maybe a college fund. The same is true for a tree. The idea that you just plant a tree and let “nature” take care of it is a false one.

When they are young, they need help getting established. This includes being planted in the proper location, proper planting, watering and mulching. As they grow, they need proper maintenance---fertilizing, insect and disease control and pruning. Ignoring or delaying proper care does not save money, in fact it costs money. Problems that could have been prevented by proper planting and after planting care now need intervention to keep the tree healthy and alive. Stressed plants are more likely to have disease and insect problems. Trees that are not regularly pruned are more susceptible to storm damage. Leaving broken branches can be an ingress for disease and insects. Major deadwood can be a hazard and liability.

As trees age from 10 to 20 years, the benefits of taking care of them out way the cost of maintenance. Constantly replacing trees because they were not maintained means never having the benefits that mature trees bring. Trees are the only part of the infrastructure that do a better job as they get older and larger. When you are replacing trees, even a 7-year old tree (the average age of a parkway tree in Chicago), you lose the time it took to grow that tree. 

Some people talk about SAVE THE EARTH, SAVE THE PLANET. I have never bought into this idea. The planet will survive, we will not. As a tree hugger (really a tree kisser) people think I care more about trees than people. WRONG! The reason I care about trees is because I care about people. I know that the human race cannot survive without trees.

So whether you manage a single home, a townhome complex or a commercial property, don’t forget to plan for long term care of your trees. It’s worth it.

Chris Mest - Certified Arborist #IL - 1367A

Turboglow Lights Up The Night

Tim Krause and Bill Petersen, President of Turborain®
Bill Petersen, President of Garden Green EcoSolutions, LLC, has donated an LED solar powered lighting system to the Prospect Heights Park District to illuminate the Izaak Walton Park sign on the corner of Elmhurst Road and Hillcrest Avenue.
"For many years I have manufactured the TurboRain® sustainable rainwater  irrigation system," exclaimed Petersen.   "After much testing I am now introducing the TurboGlowTM  sustainable lighting system.  TurboGlowTM was initially focused on lighting real estate signs with solar power, but evolved into providing sustainable lighting for any application where running electrical to a remote location to power lights was absolutely cost prohibitive."
The TurboGlowTM system uses solar power to charge the internal battery, which in turn powers the highly efficient, low amperage, LED lighting.  The intensity of the lights can be adjusted to balance out the most effective lighting conditions with energy consumption. With the solar panel communicating to the internal controls, sundown will trigger the activation of the lights, which can be programmed to stay on for increments of 1 hour. Once set up, the system requires no human intervention.
This is a perfect solution for anyone looking to provide reliable, high intensity sustainable lighting where it was previously deemed to be cost prohibitive. Anyone interested in more information please contact Bill Petersen at or visit the web site at

PHNRC & Park District Classes Are for the Birds!

PHNRC and Park District fall classes have kicked off and it really is all about the birds. Kicking off on a warm September morning, the first seasonal bird walk was well attended and a great success. "I have never in my life seen so many wood ducks in one place at one time,"  said former Bird Conservation Network President Mary Lou Mellon. "The changes the PHNRC have made here at the Slough have really raised the level."

The walk boasted an impressive list of birds including Cedar Waxwings, Swainson’s Thrush, American Robin, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, House Sparrow, Wood Duck, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Solitary Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Dunlin, Killdeer, Song Sparrow, Ring-billed Gull, Cooper’s Hawk, American Goldfinch and the Northern Cardinal.

The next scheduled bird walk with the Bird Conservation Network's Mary Lou Mellon and Lee Ramsey is Saturday October 1st. Please call the Park District to register at 847. 394. 2848.

Also upcoming are two classes by Certified Arborist and local resident Chris Mest  
#IL - 1367A. Chris will be giving his extraordinary interactive children's class on trees, in addition to his adult class on tree care. 

Join us for this special children's class about trees entitled "Kids and Trees". Certified tree arborist Chris Mest will present this highly entertaining and interactive introduction to trees designed for children aged 5-9 but appealing to all ages. Chris has several interactive props, games and coloring pages he uses to illustrate what a tree is and why trees are so important. He will also be reading his new short story "Jake and the Arborist".

Chris will also be presenting a highly informative session on basic tree care entitled "Tree care; the Things Most People Do Wrong". Chris will discuss the basics of tree care. Topics to be covered are tree planting, proper mulching, proper watering and the right way to prune.

Both classes are free and will be held in the Morava Center. PHNRC will be sending out notices as soon as registration has been set up.

What's Coming to Nature Speaks

Winter 2017 - Abigail Derby Lewis, Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Field Museum will be discussing climate impacts and the role urban nature plays in helping to adapt on February 28th. Details will be available on the website soon.

Spring 2017 - Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Research and Conservation at Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has signed on again to Nature Speaks to give his outstanding presentation on Monarch Butterflies on April 19th, 2017 to coincide with Earth Day festivities. Details will be available on the website soon.

Coming soon - Kristin DaPra and John Mc Cabe from the Forest Preserves of Cook County will be here to give an introduction to a screening of the just released 
documentary film about the hundred year anniversary of the forest preserve. Details will be announced on the PHNRC website.

What's New at the Sites

Volunteers cross over the creek on the newly reconstructed foot bridge at the Slough.
Turboglow lights up the night at the Slough.
Turtlehead and one very strong bee at the Slough
New warning signs keep the volunteers safe at the Slough thanks to PHPD
Copyright © 2016 Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission, All rights reserved.

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