Volunteers Sow the Seeds of Hackmatack

This winter, Openlands has organized a series of volunteer workdays at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. With the help of these great volunteers, we have begun the process of restoring two sites within the boundaries of the refuge.

Hackmatack was established as a permanent National Wildlife Refuge in 2012, but from the beginning, it has been a partnership of local communities and local governments working to bring the vision to life. Friends and neighbors came together to earn the federal designation, but now the real work of building the refuge acre-by-acre has begun.


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Braving the Cold…

On the chilly morning of January 28, the Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge hosted a seed planting workday on the Perricone Tract with the help of Openlands and the McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD). Volunteers spread 100 lbs of native prairie seed mix, kindly donated by FermiLab, along the site’s eastern edge, which will grow in to help restore this tract.

In 2016, Openlands purchased the Perricone Tract in Woodstock, IL as part of our ongoing work in Hackmatack. This 27-acre parcel contains remnant sedge meadow and a lovely meandering stretch of the Nippersink Creek. Openlands partnered with the Nippersink Watershed Association to protect the Perricone Tract and received a generous grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to support the site’s acquisition and restoration.

The seeding planting workday laid the foundation for more prairie restoration work in the coming spring, which will be led by our partners at MCCD and funded by our Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation grant.


…And Enjoying the Unseasonably Warm

Following the seed planting, a second group of volunteers, again in partnership with Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, helped begin restoration efforts at the Blackmon Tract in Richmond, an open space site in the refuge boundaries that is owned by Openlands.

Back in the fall of 2016, Openlands acquired this 11-acre site in the Tamarack Core Area of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. It contains oak woodlands, a high-quality wetland area, and wonderful opportunities for restoring native natural communities and creating public access for Hackmatack. The acquisition of the Blackmon property was made possible through the leadership and support of the Grand Victoria Foundation, which awarded a generous grant to Openlands for the land purchase.

On February 19, a hard-working group of nearly 30 people joined us on an unseasonably warm day to pick up trash and clear invasive brush from the Blackmon Tract. We were happy to count members from several groups among our volunteers, including Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, Boy Scout Troop 340 from Spring Grove, and EPIC Volunteering from Palos. Spotting a bald eagle circling slowly overhead topped off a great day filled with laughter, a little bit of sweat, and a lot of sunshine.


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When restored, the landscapes protected at Hackmatack will once again offer a home to the mosaics of native plants and wildflowers, the mazes of pristine streams, and the rich variety of wildlife. Essential to Openlands’ vision is not just protecting these rare habitats, but also ensuring everyone can share in the nature at Hackmatack. Whether through participating in restoration days or by introducing best practices to support wildlife near their homes, the local residents are making great strides to restore this area for the benefit of all.


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Local partnerships make Hackmatack a unique model for conservation and our volunteers helped sow the seeds for future partnerships uniting around a shared vision for Hackmatack. We will be hosting more workdays at these sites soon. For more information, please contact Openlands Conservation Manager, Aimee Collins, at acollins@openlands.org or call 312.863.6257.

Openlands send many thanks to our volunteers for their support and to our sponsors who provide critical support for restoration!

Have You Discovered Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie?

Illinois didn’t earn the nickname ‘the Prairie State’ for nothing, but it is no secret that our namesake has virtually disappeared from the natural landscape. Once home to over 20 million acres of prairie, Illinois now holds less than 2,500 acres of remnant virgin prairie. Yet if you are looking to experience the enormity of the prairie and glimpse the natural history of our state, look no further than Midewin.

As the largest open space in the Chicago region, the 19,000-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the first such protected tallgrass prairie in the country and it is managed today by the U.S. Forest Service. Midewin sits just an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago and began its journey to federal protection in the early 1990s when the U.S. Army announced plans to close the Joliet Arsenal.

The importance of Midewin cannot be overstated. Its expansiveness makes it ideal habitat for grassland birds; in addition to native prairie, it contains a variety of ecologically-significant habitats and natural areas; and in 2015 it became a new home for a herd of American bison. But Midewin was also envisioned as a place to connect the residents of Illinois to the nature that surrounds them.

Foresight and planning over the last 20 years coupled the restoration of a unique prairie ecosystem with unparalleled opportunities for outdoor recreation, wildlife viewing, environmental education, research, and volunteerism, which made Midewin a contemporary model process for the expansion of public open space. Here are a few options for you to enjoy these public lands, but certainly take a chance to discover Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in your own way.

Butterflies and Birds Flock to Deer Grove East

Just 35 miles northwest of downtown Chicago, birds and butterflies that once called our region home are making a triumphant return to a special place. They are attracted to this special place because of environmental restoration, the process of returning an area to its natural state in order to restore the health and vitality of the land and water. And now, through the work of Openlands and our partners, you can explore the rare and stunning bird and butterfly species that call this place home.

This extraordinary place, Deer Grove East Forest Preserve in Palatine, IL, is one of the five natural area and wetland restorations Openlands is working on as a part of the O’Hare Modernization Mitigation Account (OMMA) initiative. OMMA seeks to offset the impact on wetlands caused by the expansion of O’Hare International Airport. This project is part of a series of restorations across the Des Plaines River Watershed in conjunction with the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Chicago Department of Aviation, and other partners.

25 Bird Species Documented at Deer Grove East

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A Female Wilson’s Phalarope. The species has been documented at Deer Grove East.

As part of its Army Corps requirements, Openlands monitored and documented the plant species in the restored and enhanced plant communities at Deer Grove East. We also measured the water levels in the upper portion of the site’s soils during growing season to record how the wetlands recovered. Additionally, from 2010-2015, our project consultant Stantec Consulting Services Inc., and the Deer Grove Natural Area Volunteers monitored bird species nesting at the Preserve, along with those passing through during spring and fall migration. We knew that restoration would attract beautiful and rare animals and were delighted by the results. This monitoring confirmed that 25 birds listed under the Species of Greatest Conservation Need (as classified in the Illinois Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan and Strategy) either nested at or stopped by Deer Grove East during their migrations. Two bird species on the Illinois endangered list, the American Bittern and Wilson’s Phalarope, have been spotted using Deer Grove’s restored wetlands during the spring migratory season. See the list of 25 bird species recorded at Deer Grove East below.

36 Butterfly Species Recorded at Deer Grove East

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An Eastern Tailed Blue on Butterfly Weed. Both are found at Deer Grove East.

Because of the outstanding commitment of the Deer Grove Natural Area Volunteers, and our important partnerships with the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Forest Preserves of Cook County, we have been able to document the enchanting butterflies that can now be found at the site. To date, 36 species of butterflies have been documented at Deer Grove East including Monarchs, Swallowtails, Skippers and more. These encouraging findings are the result of our planting plan for the Preserve. Five milkweed species recommended for our region by the Monarch Joint Venture (Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Whorled Milkweed, and Poke Milkweed) and many nectar plants were all included with the intent of providing habitat for unique butterfly species. See the list of 36 butterfly species recorded at Deer Grove East below.

Partnership

Deer Grove East reflects success as a restoration model through the critical the support of our amazing partners like the Deer Grove Natural Area Volunteers, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Forest Preserves of Cook County. With partnership, Openlands better connects people to the outdoors through volunteerism, and provides a richer experience for visitors to the site’s trails, picnic groves, and new camping facilities at Camp Reinberg. Learn more about Deer Grove East.

Bird species recorded at Deer Grove East, 2010-2015

American Woodcock
Bobolink
Brown Creeper
Brown Thrasher
Chimney Swift
Common Nighthawk
Dickcissel
Field Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
Great Egret
Henslow’s Sparrow
Hooded Merganser
Marsh Wren
Northern Flicker
Ovenbird
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-headed Woodpecker
Rusty Black Bird
Sandhill Crane
Savannah Sparrow
Sedge Wren
Willow Flycatcher
Wilson’s Snipe
Wood Thrush
Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Total Species: 25

Butterfly species recorded at Deer Grove East from 2001-2015 provided by the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Swallowtails
Black Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Whites and Sulphurs
Cabbage White
Cloudless Sulphur
Common/Orange Sulphur

Hairstreaks/Coppers/Blues
Acadian Hairstreak
Coral Hairstreak
Eastern Tailed Blue
Spring/Summer Azure

Brush-Footed Butterflies
Ladies and Allies

American Painted Lady
Buckeye
Mourning Cloak
Painted Lady
Pearl Crescent
Red Admiral

Angel Wings
Eastern Comma
Gray Comma
Question Mark

Admirals
Red-Spotted Purple
Viceroy 

Checkerspots
Silvery Checkerspot

Fritillaries
Great Spangled Fritillary

Monarchs

Satyrs
Common Wood Nymph
Eyed Brown
Little Wood Satyr
Northern Pearly Eye

Spread-winged Skippers
Common Sootywing
Northern Cloudywing
Silver Spotted Skipper

Folded-winged Skippers
European Skipper
Fiery Skipper
Least Skipper
Little Glassywing
Peck’s Skipper
Tawny Edge

Total Species: 36

Have You Discovered Hadley Valley Preserve?

Hadley Valley Preserve is located just outside Chicago, and it includes over 700 acres of trails, picnic groves, and restored natural habitat and wide open spaces.

Since 2007, the Forest Preserves of Will County have restored more than 180 acres of native habitat, working in collaboration with Openlands, the US Army Corp of Engineers, the Illinois Tollway (I-355 Extension project), the City of Joliet, the Illinois DNR, and local development. Altogether, about 148,000 individual plants have been planted to restore the wetland areas.

The quality of restoration at Hadley Valley has earned it numerous awards and accolades. Native plants and animals thrive in vast prairie, open savannas, and shaded woodland.

Hadley Valley is a remarkable resource for outdoor recreation as well as for birding and wildlife viewing. Come for day in the sun, soak up some vitamin D, and take in the sweet smell of native wildflowers as they bloom. With just a short trip from Chicago, it’s a great discovery for all nature lovers!

Bison Return to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

On May 7, over 2,300 visitors welcomed the American bison back to the prairie an hour southwest of the Chicago Loop when Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie held the public celebration of the bison’s return.

The over 19,000-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the first national tallgrass prairie in our nation’s history. Established in 1996, it is considered one of the most important conservation initiatives in Illinois of the 20th century and was established as a direct result of leadership and advocacy by Openlands. In addition to advocating for the former Joliet Arsenal to become Midewin, Openlands worked in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations to develop The Prairie Plan for the restoration of a unique prairie ecosystem. In 1997, Openlands helped organize the conference, “From Bison to Buffalo Grass,” which envisioned the return of bison as an integral part of prairie restoration efforts.

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Last fall, 27 bison were introduced to Midewin and this spring, nine bison calves were born.

In this video, Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann comments on the creation of Midewin and the momentous occasion of bison born there.

Learn more about Midewin’s history and Openlands’ ongoing restoration work at the prairie here.

A Land Protection Success for Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Spend an afternoon exploring the countryside of McHenry County, about 70 miles northwest of Chicago, and soon you will find yourself crossing one of the features that make this part of our region special: a lazy Midwestern stream. Dozens of these little waterways wind through the farm fields and sleepy villages that characterize the county’s quiet rural areas. These streams feed larger creeks such as the Nippersink and Piscasaw, which then flow into our region’s big rivers such as the Fox and Kishwaukee. Eventually, the tiny McHenry County stream you cross will reach the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico beyond.

In January of 2016, Openlands closed on the purchase of a 27-acre property in rural Woodstock that contains one of these important waterways. Known as the Perricone property, the site features part of a major branch of the high-quality Nippersink Creek along with remnant sedge meadow communities. Nearly a mile of the creek meanders through the property, offering critical habitat for native fish and mussels. In addition, nearby upland areas present excellent opportunities to restore native prairie habitat, support grassland and migratory birds, and create a buffer area along the creek to improve soil health and water quality.

The Perricone property is an important land protection project for several reasons. Chief among these is the property’s location within the boundaries of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. When Hackmatack was established by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2012, the refuge’s footprint was carefully outlined by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to include streams and creeks within the Nippersink Creek watershed. In addition to protecting part of this high-quality hydrological complex – home to several state endangered and threatened species – the Perricone property lays within a designated “core area” of Hackmatack. This is truly a strategic land protection accomplishment for the refuge.


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With generous funding from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, a critical match grant from the Full Circle Foundation, and help from our partner, the Nippersink Creek Watershed Association, Openlands purchased the Perricone property and will begin restoration work on the site later this year. In the near future, Openlands plans to transfer the property into the permanent ownership of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, where it will officially become part of the federal landholdings that comprise Hackmatack.

A few miles downstream from the Perricone property, this particular branch of the Nippersink Creek flows through another important Hackmatack project located in the same “core area” of Hackmatack: the Twin Creeks project. With the help of conservation partners including the McHenry County Conservation District and Ducks Unlimited, Openlands purchased about 100 acres of this platted, yet undeveloped subdivision – transforming the land into a beautiful complex of oak woodland, common areas featuring native wildflowers, protected creek corridor, and individual home sites. Federal grant funding through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act is being leveraged to complete restoration work along the creek.

The Perricone property and the Twin Creeks project are great examples of powerful partnerships coming together to create a large-scale project like Hackmatack. Openlands is one of ten organizations that have signed on to a partnership agreement guiding the selection and implementation of land protection projects for Hackmatack. As of January 2018, the partners have protected nearly 1,000 acres in the refuge boundaries. These successes have been accomplished by using innovative approaches that leverage limited partner resources, working with willing sellers, and helping conservation-minded landowners protect their properties with conservation easements.


Want to start exploring Hackmatack for yourself? The best ways to experience the refuge are through a visit to Glacial Park and by paddling the Nippersink Creek. You can also learn more about the landscapes protected at Hackmatack and read the story of how a small group of volunteers earned federal recognition of these special landscapes.

For more information on Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, please contact land@openlands.org.

#DiscoverYourPlace Photo Map

We at Openlands love that so many of you are getting outside to #DiscoverYourPlace. The social media campaign puts a spotlight on special outdoor and natural areas in northeastern Illinois, southeastern Wisconsin, and northwestern Indiana.

Many of you have gotten out to explore natural areas you didn’t know existed, while others are highlighting species and habitat that make our region special! These include many of the places Openlands helps to protect, restore, and create for people to connect to. So far, there have been over 300 photos of unique landscapes, vast open space, and special green areas in the Chicago region!

As the weather warms, we’d love to know, “Where are you enjoying the outdoors and discovering new and restored natural areas nearby?” Get involved by tagging your photos of parks, gardens, trails, preserves, native species, restored landscapes and more with #DiscoverYourPlace! Share your photos on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Check out this interactive map of some of our favorite #DiscoverYourPlace photos on Instagram so far! Do you see a place you haven’t heard of? How many of these places have you been to? Or maybe you’d like to highlight one of your favorite natural areas not represented below! Join us!

Click here for the interacative #DiscoverYourPlace map!

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Openlands Protects Important Bird Areas Near Chicago

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty between the United States and Canada. In 1916, this landmark agreement made it illegal to hunt, capture, kill, sell, or even pursue migratory birds. (See the original 1916 treaty here: Convention between the United States and Great Britain for the Protection of Migratory Birds.)

To celebrate this treaty, Openlands wants to make Chicagoans aware of Important Bird Areas nearby. Important Bird Areas or IBA’s are internationally recognized places that are chosen for their unique role in providing habitat for birds. These habitats play a vital part in the lives of birds who are endangered or threatened, either by providing breeding grounds, pathways for migration, or places to spend the winter.

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White-faced Ibis at Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland

Through environmental policy and advocacy, habitat protection, and land acquisition and restoration programs, Openlands has positively impacted IBA’s around Chicago. Just south of the city, we’ve helped to establish natural areas like Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and save places like Goose Lake Prairie State Park. We’ve restored vital wetlands and other habitats at Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland and Illinois Beach State Park, and have used our policy wing to advocate for several additional sites. We fought for the Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance that keeps our lakefront protected for migrating birds along the Mississippi Flyway.

Here is a list of Important Bird Areas Openlands has helped to protect:

Notably, Openlands and the Forest Preserves of Cook County have worked together since 2001 to expand over 900 acres of continuous grassland habitat at Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland in southern Cook County. Bartel Grassland was an existing IBA on its own, but in September 2015, Audubon Chicago Region approved adding the Tinley Creek Wetlands restoration areas to Bartel. This more than doubled the overall acreage for this Important Bird Area.

In the end, Openlands wants to make sure these special places are accessible to people from all walks of life. Through our Birds in My Neighborhood Program, we are able to engage Chicago Public School students with nearby nature areas. The program has taken educational visits to Tinley Creek-Bartel Grassland, introducing these children to a rare and unique world of nature and experiences they will never forget.

We hope you venture out and find an Important Bird Area near you!