Have You Discovered Wolf Lake?

Sitting just over 15 miles from the heart of the Loop and straddling the Illinois-Indiana border, Wolf Lake is part of a network of recreation areas on Chicago’s south side. Over the years, Openlands has worked to expand the area’s trail system, which connects communities such as Hegewisch, South Deering and Whiting, and we encourage you to discover Wolf Lake for yourself!

The origin of the lake’s name is unknown, but local residents have offered a few theories: some believe that “Wolf” was a Native American chief while others contend that years ago the surrounding area was teeming with wolves. Neither of these claims have been verified, but they still offer an interesting look into the lake’s history.

Wolf Lake also lies in the heart of the Calumet region, a natural area of over 15,000 acres of river systems, parks, trails, rare dune and swale, and savanna. Openlands has focused on empowering community groups and local governments to care for the region’s natural resources. As we promote a regional culture of conservation, Openlands has helped to develop an interconnected network of protected greenways and trails and to restore public access to the region’s natural treasures.

The area around Wolf Lake is home to numerous open spaces, recreational opportunities, and cultural institutions, including two sites managed by the National Park Service. The area is easy to reach no matter where you’re coming from, and there is plenty to enjoy for an entire weekend.

Raising Parks and Wetlands from Industrial Sites along Lake Calumet

On November 5, Openlands Greenways Director Ders Anderson joined local community leaders, and guided a tour of potential public access and ecological restoration sites along the shores of Lake Calumet. Easily accessible to the neighborhoods of Pullman and Roseland, Lake Calumet is the largest body of water in the city of Chicago; however, the shoreline has sat vacant, cut off from public access for decades.

As part of the Lake Calumet Vision Committee, Openlands has been working in partnership with the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and Friends of the Parks to develop new parkland and recreation opportunities for local communities at this site. Representatives from Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s office (IL-2nd), Congressman Michael Quigley’s office (IL-5th) and the Chicago Park District joined the Lake Calumet Vision Committee along with leaders from the Active Transport Alliance, Friends of Big Marsh, the Metropolitan Planning Council and REI’s Outdoor Programs for a tour of the underutilized sites.

“When Lake Calumet came under management of the Illinois International Port District decades ago, the surrounding neighborhoods were cut off from their 100-year access to this water resource, and the shore has remained undeveloped since,” explains Anderson. The committee envisions future recreation opportunities for biking, jogging, paddling and sailing, as well as a new trail linking the Pullman National Monument to the new urban mountain bike Park at Big Marsh. The committee has engaged local residents both for their input and reaction to the proposal and found overwhelming support for access to the lake. When completed, the proposed park and recreation sites would restore public access to this neglected natural treasure.

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The creation of new parkland at this site would further connect the growing network of green spaces in south Chicagoland maintained by the Chicago Park District. Nearby Big Marsh is home to the recently opened 278-acre bike park, Chicago’s first eco-recreation destination, with Heron Pond, Indian Ridge, Deadstick Pond and Hegewisch Marsh located at the southern end of the lake.

But Lake Calumet is valuable for many more reasons than just the recreation opportunities. In 1980, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources listed Lake Calumet on its Illinois Natural Areas Inventory, which listed habitats within the state in vital need of conservation and which has served as a guide to land preservation to this day. However, despite the need for preservation of this aquatic ecosystem, little action has been taken to protect Lake Calumet.

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At the north end of the lake sits the 140-acre Square Marsh, which the committee hopes to see restored as a hemi-marsh. A hemi-marsh is an aquatic ecosystem, 50% of which is open water necessary for birds to identify the site as habitat, and the other 50% comprised of aquatic plants to provide wildlife with food and shelter. Along with the recently restored hemi-marsh at Big Marsh, the restoration efforts at Lake Calumet would provide a dramatic increase in habitat.

Conditions for restoration are ripe: water levels in Lake Calumet are ideal for wetlands restoration, the lake provides a variety of habitats to support an array of wildlife, and the water quality in the lake is believed to be improving thanks to local efforts to curb runoff from industrial sites. All totaled, the restoration site could support more than 500 acres of new habitat.

With everything moving in the right direction for a positive redevelopment of the shores of Lake Calumet, Openlands hopes to build on existing local support for the plan and realize this important project. “There is very strong local support for this project, it is consistent with the land use plan adopted by the City of Chicago, and Lake Calumet has long been identified as a site with major conservation potential,” explains Anderson, “What we need now is financial support and the will of our elected leaders to see it through, but I am confident they will do the right thing for the community.”

Photo Credit (all): Lloyd DeGrane

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!

Restoration at Openlands

Through restoration, Openlands connects the dots of nature. Our work brings sunlight to developing trees, fish and amphibians to streams, birds to the shore and canopy, and people to the land. Such is our mission, to connect individuals and communities to the natural world in which we all live.

Openlands Lakeshore Preserve

Visiting the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve for the first time is truly enchanting. As I walked out to the lookout on my first trip, the fog seemed to peel away from the water and I remember thinking to myself, “This is Lake Michigan.” I had seen the Great Lake many times before, but never like this. The melody of the gently rising and falling waves against the pale sand was truly hypnotic. It was quiet. There wasn’t a soul in sight, and yet life was all around. Shorebirds scuttled in the brush, mergansers paddled offshore, and I sat and watched.

Since the fall of 2011, the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve has provided northeastern Illinois with rare access to nearly 80 acres of shoreline and ravine ecosystems. In December 2015, Openlands announced a 5 year project to reestablish lost habitat across the Preserve. With funding from the Grand Victoria Foundationand a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we have spent the winter months removing an array of non-native and invasive tree species that have dominated the area and choked out native trees. The removal of these invaders allows native plant and tree species to flourish without having to compete for sunlight.

As the winter comes to an end, the spring phase of the restoration plan is set to begin at the Southern end of the Preserve, in Schenck Ravine. Thriving ravine ecosystems are phenomenally important, as they provide pools and riffles that organically manage stormwater, reduce erosion, and serve as habitat for local fish.

Lastly, we will also work to restore portions of the southern bluffs as well as the endangered marram grass which, when healthy, works to bind loose sand – a process that is essential in forming and maintaining the dunes that separate the bluffs from the lakeshore. Healthy dunes means more stable bluffs which, in this case, acts as a landing zone for hundreds of species of migrating birds.

As Openlands continues to restore the area, more and more people become connected to the land. This connection can already be seen throughout the Preserve, but perhaps, particularly, when walking through the shaded trails. Where the brush has been cleared, new trees and wildflowers are being planted ensuring that people will experience the enchantment I enjoyed on my first visit to the Preserve.

Deer Grove West

Like the Preserve, the Deer Grove West Forest Preserve was equally engulfing – literally the minute I arrived I spotted three, maybe four species of birds before I was even out of the car. As I ventured further into the area, the magnitude of restoration really hit me. Looking around, all sorts of dense brush was being cleared, giving way to new life. Previously, this brush was very obviously suffocating juvenile trees that were desperate for sunlight. These trees would soon find new life, which they would share with the birds, the frogs and with visitors like me.

Nearly 100 years ago, the Deer Grove preserve became the inaugural piece of land acquired by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. For years it served as an oasis for various species native to our region.

In 2008, Openlands partnered with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, City of Chicago Department of Aviation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and began the savanna, prairie and wetland restoration efforts on the eastern half of Deer Grove. Deer Grove East once again boasts several wetland areas as well as vast rolling prairies and open oak savannas.

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Finally, in 2015, we announced that Deer Grove West would be next – just in time for its 100th Anniversary. Over the next several years, a $3.15 million restoration plan will be implemented to restore a robust ecosystem, that, when finished, will support more than 300 species of native woodland plants, as well as a wide variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.

Similar to the work being done at the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, much of this focuses on clearing invasive species and reintroducing native plants. We will also be performing controlled burns. Burning is a natural process that has been a part of the Illinois landscape for thousands of years. It stimulates the development of native plants, which in turn provides healthy habitat for new life throughout the ecosystem.

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!

Young People Explore Nature in the Calumet Region

Connecting young people to nature where they live is vital to creating our planet’s future stewards. This year, Openlands offered three very different opportunities for kids and young adults to get outside in the Calumet region, a unique, bi-state ecosystem in the Lake Michigan basin composed of over 15,000 acres of river systems, parks, trails, rare dune and swale, and savanna.


calbiodiverRich habitat for all kinds of species characterized the Calumet before the region was settled and industrialized. Openlands worked with Valparaiso University students from 2013-2015 to see what kinds of aquatic life and stream habitat are present in the headwaters of several Calumet region streams that drain into Lake Michigan. We found some surprises, including rare native lamprey and tiny young-of-the-year coho salmon. The stream habitats were beautiful and unusually high-quality because we focused the work in natural areas managed by conservation oriented organizations. In addition to interesting fish and reptiles we also found some very distinctive aquatic insect larva. These including caddisfly larva that use pieces of stick to make cases in which they live,  making them look like tiny sticks that walk. The health of headwater areas, or the area where streams begin, is very important to the health of the entire stream system and the water bodies into which the streams drain.  In addition to seeing what life the headwaters support, we noted any conditions that could be addressed to make the headwaters healthier, for example, areas where road salt might be degrading water quality or areas where habitat for aquatic species is partially cut off from the rest of the stream by barriers like culverts that fish may have difficultly swimming through.

Since 2014, Openlands has also been connecting Calumet residents to nature in their communities through birding trips. In 2014, Ms. Mack’s 4th grade class from Lavizzo Elementary participated in Birds In My Neighborhood®, and was among a select group to visit Lake Calumet for a birding adventure highlighted by the appearance of two bald eagles.

BIMN1In 2015, in addition to a return to Lake Calumet, her class took a field trip to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the northeast edge of the Calumet region – only a 40 minute drive from the school. Birds In My Neighborhoodvolunteers escorted students and their families on a day trip to West Beach and the Douglas Environmental Education Center at Indiana Dunes. For all but one father, this was the first time any of the students or family members had visited the Dunes. The students were excited throughout the day as they played games and practiced using binoculars to find birds. By visiting a new place to practice birding with parents, grandparents, and cousins, the students had a positive and memorable experience in nature. In 2016, Openlands hopes to create similar opportunities for weekend bird walks for Birds in My Neighborhood families. We hope to make what one young lady referred to as “the best field trip ever” a recurring event.


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Openlands has also been partnering to offer explorations of calumet waterways via canoe and kayak since 2014.  On June 13, we partnered with the Forest Preserves of Cook County to offer paddling at Fishin’ Buddies’ Beaubien Woods Celebration.  About 250 mostly local Calumet residents paddled, many for the first time, and explored Beaubien Woods’ Flatfoot Lake from canoes, looking for evidence of beaver presence on the lake, including searching for lodges and gnawed trees and learning a little bit about the history of the landscape.  It was a beautiful day and Flatfoot lake was literally sparking.  One of the participants said that the paddling was the “jewel of the festival.”

These recent Openlands efforts are part of our robust history of connecting the people of the Calumet Region to nature by increasing public access to open space, empowering community groups and local governments to care for the region’s natural resources, and promoting a regional culture of conservation by developing an interconnected network of protected and productive green ways, water trails and open spaces.

Conservation Easements Create a Network of Protected Lands

Openlands envisions a Chicago region where all people can connect to a web of green. The conservation easement is a primary tool Openlands uses to partner with private landowners to create that network of protected land. An easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust that permanently limits uses and ensures that the land retains its conservation value, while keeping the land in private ownership. Easements can be used to protect any type of important natural resource from wetlands to forests and farms. Openlands has been using easements in its work since 1980 and in 2013 was accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a program of the Land Trust Alliance.

“Working with private landowners to help build an interconnected system of natural lands is critically important in a place like Illinois, where more than 95% of the land is in private ownership,”  says Emy Brawley, Openlands’ Director of Land Preservation.  “There will never be enough public dollars to buy the land needed to create a resilient, interconnected landscape at the scale necessary for our region to thrive.”

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The purpose and terms of each easement are tailored to landowners’ desires for the specific property. For instance, an easement for agricultural land could allow for farming activity and the construction of barns and stables, but not energy development or building multiple houses. The flexibility of the easement agreement allows landowners to retain some value through productive use of the land, while the land trust ensures that it is protected for future generations. Easements are most often donated by the landowner, who then is eligible for a variety of tax benefits from the transaction.  The easement also lowers the real property and estate tax burden, which may allow owners to keep land within a family.

“In our area, conservation easements are an under-appreciated and economically-sensible land protection tool. In contrast to public ownership, they keep property on the tax roll, and the expense of managing the land stays with the private landowner, rather than being transferred to a government,” says Brawley.  “So, conservation easements provide many of the same benefits that come from publicly-owned land – habitat for animals, clean water and air, even recreational opportunities – at a fraction of the cost.”

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One area for which conservation easements are proving to be a key tool is our work supporting our regional food system. Food is one of the most tangible connections we have with land and Openlands’ goal to connect people to nature is being accomplished through this important work.

In 2014, Openlands worked with the Conservation Fund to accept a 198-acre conservation easement at Prairie Crossing, an acclaimed conservation community in Grayslake, Illinois. The property includes passive recreation areas with trails, open space areas, a Montessori school, and agricultural operations. The agricultural zone of the easement is used for small-scale farming, the operations of which the Liberty Prairie Foundation helps to support and manage.

Working in partnership with the Liberty Prairie Foundation, Openlands is also developing initiatives that connect new and beginning farmers with land. Thanks to funding from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Openlands and its partners are conducting research that aims to strengthen the resiliency of our region’s foodshed by ensuring that important farmland is protected and that the next generations of farmers and stewards will sustainably manage it for productive use. A robust, sustainably managed regional food system generates economic, environmental, and public health benefits that flow to all residents.