By Jeff Cologna and Joy McKinney
Each steward at Nachusa Grasslands has a fascinating personal tale, often involving stories of sacrifice, setbacks, and success. Together, with the resources of The Nature Conservancy, volunteers, donors, and Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, stewards work hard to ensure Illinois prairie is not merely a fading memory, but a lasting reality for all future generations. Mike Carr, one of these amazing stewards, shared a few stories from the past with us. The following paragraphs highlight those early days.
Mike’s story began as a boy whose father loved the great outdoors but "bemoaned endlessly about all the invasive plants.” His father, Francis Carr, taught him about invasive plants and how to identify trees by their bark, enabling him to identify them all year ‘round. Little did he know back then that these skills and a disdain for invasives would serve him so well at Nachusa.
In the Spring of 2010, soon after “getting away” from the city of Chicago, Mike found himself “banging on the door” of Bill Kleiman, Nachusa’s Director. Early in their discussions, Bill explained how critical fire is to restoring and maintaining healthy prairie landscapes. Experience managing fire became a top priority. Mike quickly completed a 40-hour online fire certification class leading to an absolute “love of fire” as well as the acquisition of key skills for participating in controlled burns.
Mike was then challenged by Bill Kleiman and Cody Considine, restoration ecologist at Nachusa, to take on a unit of his very own which would later be named Big Jump. We asked Mike why the 350-acre unit was given this interesting moniker. Apparently, it was the result of a naming contest among stewards. His unit is basically “a long way from the HQ.” Due to the number of high-quality remnants within its boundaries, Mike’s restoration activities have opened up the landscape, enabling unseen natives such as porcupine grass, arrow leaf violets, and blue-eyed grass to show themselves, surprising and delighting Mike. Every year he discovers new “surprises” that weren’t there before. “The whole hillside of one remnant is filled with violets in the spring and another remnant with Carolina rose, bird’s foot violet, comandra, and pussy toes.
Mike focused his efforts on a 23-acre plot within the unit which is now known as “Orland Prairie." In the beginning of restoration, Mike shared that Orland Prairie needed some kind of push to get rid of all the invasive woodies (shrubs and bushes) so the prairie could find its way. In the last 10 years, Nachusa’s Fecon mower was used to knock down the invasive woodies. Seed, collected by combine, was then spread on the area, beginning the restoration process. Unfortunately, woodies continue to dominate.
Restoration efforts continue at Orland Prairie with the help of a generous grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. The grant is being used in part to purchase herbicide for continued eradication of the highly invasive autumn olive plant and other woodies. The application of the basal bark herbicide is highly effective. “If you stand next to an autumn olive and you tell it that you’ll come back with basal bark . . . it’ll just die!” Mike quipped. Basal bark applications have been used to successfully eradicate infestations of autumn olives, which at one time stood up to 15 ft high and covered the entire 23 acres. Mike shared that the herbicide is most effective after a fire.
Mike Carr is just one of the many dedicated men and women who have committed to making Nachusa Grasslands more than just a memory. We would like to thank Mike’s dad for inspiring him to be patient and dedicated to long term goals and above all, valuing and respecting nature.
Come meet Mike on the March 2nd workday to see the Orland Prairie and experience the whimsical beauty of Nachusa Grasslands!
Summer is the busiest time of year on the prairie with seeds ready to harvest and invasive weeds sprouting up. So every May Nachusa hires half a dozen seasonal staff to keep up with the workload. Typically the staff hired are in their twenties and going into careers in ecological restoration/conservation. The crew will spend most of the first half of the summer spraying and spading weeds in the hot sun, and then seeds will be collected throughout the summer and fall as they ripen. In the late summer and fall the crew will plant the seed they collected in a brand new planting that has not seen prairie in recent years. This year's planting is 84 acres! The crew of 2017 has jumped into the summer with great enthusiasm and the prairie is already much improved because of their labors.
Meet this year's seasonal staff:
Kaleb Baker — Crew Leader, on his third season he has been an incredible resource helping with many things, including the new Arc Collector Map service. Kaleb will be with us for a couple more months this summer before he attends NIU this fall to start his Masters’ Degree.
Phil Nagorny — on his second season, he started with Kaleb back in March as our Lead Restoration Technician. He brings a deep skill set and experience operating equipment that we will take advantage of while he is here. He will also be attending NIU this fall to finish his undergraduate degree.
Sebastian Schafer — who came all the way from Germany, has been interning with us since March. He is years ahead of most at his age. He is now heading back home to start his Master’s Degree.
Nathaniel Weickert — from Rockford and recently graduated from NIU. Some of you will recognize him, since he has spent many Saturdays volunteering at Nachusa.
Cody Cassidy — is from Rochelle and recently graduated from University of WI Whitewater. Cody is good with his hands, having grown up working with his dad’s heating and cooling business.
Avery Parmiter — From Connecticut and a recent graduate from Clemson University. She brings an array of recent field experiences to Nachusa.
Sandra Vaughn-Pottorff — Originally from Rockford, she recently returned from Hawaii where she studied environmental sciences. She will be enrolling in NIU to finish her undergraduate degree this upcoming school year.
Leah Kleiman — who we all have seen grow and blossom into a mature young independent woman. She recently completed the second year of her Associate’s Degree at Sauk and is eager to gain more experience working on the crew.
(Bios written by Cody Considine)
Today's blog was brought to you by Leah Kleiman
Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida)
With its sharp coppery–orange cone spikes and its purple–pink drooping petals, this attractive native flower is a favorite on the prairie.
Coneflowers thrive in our sandy–loam soils and are especially plentiful the summer after a prescribed fire. They can bloom within two years of planting and provide a marvelous sight while other flowers species are still maturing.
The pale purple coneflower is a very showy flower, especially when planted in mass or with other flowers of contrasting color. This view looks eastward over the Gobbler Ridge unit at Clear Creek Knolls. Volunteer stewards, Bernie & Cindy Buchholz, planted this stretch of prairie in 2011. To read more about their decade of successful restorations, scroll to page 3 in the 2015 Prairie Smoke, the annual stewardship report for Nachusa Grasslands.
After 10 years of meticulous clearing, harvesting, planting, and invasive weed control, Gobbler Ridge and the Fame Flower unit are among the preserve’s highest quality restorations.
Many wildlife species benefit from the pale purple coneflower. The nectar in the blooms attract insects, such as butterflies and many native bees, while the birds (particularly Goldfinches) enjoy the seeds in the cone.
Hiking is encouraged throughout the Gobbler Ridge unit, with access from the Clear Creek Knolls parking lot. To find the entrance, look along the east side of Lowden Road, just south of Flagg Road. Hike east along the mowed lanes or walk into the prairie off–trail. Before hiking off–trail, you may want to read “What to expect off–trail” on our Hiking Guidelines website page.
The Thelma Carpenter unit is another nice spot in the preserve to see coneflowers. This hike is best reached from the visitor kiosk by taking Lowden Road north, then Stone Barn Road east and finally south on Carthage Road. There is pull–off parking in the grass. Please do not block any gates or roads. Hike along the mowed trails or hike up the hill (no trail) from the entrance sign. Visit our Hiking Destinations website page for more information.
Enjoy this early summer native flower!
Today’s author is Dee Hudson, a photographer and volunteer for Nachusa Grasslands. To see more prairie images, visit her website at www.deehudsonphotography.com.
Every summer Nachusa hires a seasonal crew to tackle weed season. The crew will spend all day spraying, spading, and pulling invasive weeds as well as doing every other odd job. This year's six individuals have already proved themselves to be hardworking and enthusiastic. Looks like it's going to be a productive summer!
My name is Jessica Fliginger and I recently graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.S. degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Biology. As part of the summer crew, I want to strengthen my plant identification and restoration skill sets, gain valuable field work experience, and explore my ecological interests. Next year, I plan on applying to graduate school and I hope this helps prepare me for that.
I attended Northern Illinois University and there I joined the Committee for the Preservation of Wildlife. Then I came out here to the prairie at Nachusa and it was beautiful. Within the next couple of years I worked at Byron Forest Preserve learning more about the prairie ecosystem. I've been fascinated ever since.
I currently attend the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, majoring in Wildlife Ecology. My passion is learning more about big game animals, but I love learning about prairie restoration! The reason I am at Nachusa Grasslands is to get great on–the–job–experience for future jobs.
I am a junior at Eureka College pursuing a career in Wildlife Ecology. Nachusa Grasslands offers a great opportunity to gain knowledge and experience within the field, which will be useful for the years to come!
I am an Environmental Studies major at Northern Illinois University and plan to work on the crew for the spring, summer and fall seasons. I have been doing restoration for over three years and look forward to continuing that work here at Nachusa.
I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology this spring and plan to begin a master's program in Ecology in 2017. At Nachusa, I wish to continue learning from the community and contributing toward their restoration projects.
Today's author is Leah Kleiman.
I have been a high school French teacher, registered piano technician, and librarian. In retirement I am a volunteer historian at Lee County Historical and Genealogical Society.