Photo by Chad Merda
“The Forest Preserve and State of Illinois have combined efforts to protect 2,798 acres of sand savanna in Will County along the Kankakee River east of Braidwood,” Catchpole said. “The Braidwood Sands ecosystem is composed of a mosaic of black- and white-oak sand savanna groves, sand prairie, sand shrub prairie, sand seeps, sedge meadow, marshes, ponds, the Kankakee River, small streams, ditches and agricultural fields.”
The site also shelters a group of state-endangered or threatened species made up of 18 plants, two turtles, two birds and one insect.
“What we’re doing is knitting together these remnants of nature preserves by converting the agricultural fields to their native state,” Catchpole said. “And we still have half of the acreage to go.”
Catchpole said he first viewed the area in 2001 when he was hired by the Forest Preserve. “It was in rough shape,” he said. “Sunny savannas and wet prairies were often choked with invasive trees and shrubs, and much of the land was either in agriculture, or showed clear signs of former plowing or overgrazing.”
A savanna should have less than a 50 percent tree canopy, he explained. “If you spend the day walking in a savanna, you should get a sunburn.”