Restoration work at Kankakee Sands Preserve has earned the Forest Preserve District an award from the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials.
Forest Preserve Chief Operating Office Ralph Schultz accepted the award June 9 in Castle Rock, Colorado. The Environmental/Conservation award is given annually “to recognize an exceptional effort to acquire, restore, preserve, operate, or develop unique or significant conservation and natural areas or programs,” according to NACPRO.
The Kankakee Sands success story dates back 20 years to 1999 when the Forest Preserve first began purchasing land for the preserve. Restoration efforts began in earnest in the winter of 2013-2014 when the District began using seeds donated by The Nature Conservancy that were especially suited to the region. The seeding program has continued annually.
The seeds planted have sprouted into species that can survive and thrive in the area’s sandy soil, which is left over from glacial Lake Wauponsee. Kankakee Sands Preserve is part of a larger Kankakee Sands Region, which stretches from Will County into Indiana.
Kankakee Sands Preserve is a key spot for restoration because it is located between three nature preserves. Only the highest quality natural areas in Illinois are given the state designation of "nature preserve." The Forest Preserve owns two of the nature preserves – Braidwood Dunes and Sand Ridge Savanna. And the third, Wilmington Shrub Prairie, is owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The Nature Conservancy and IDNR have been working with the Forest Preserve to restore this larger region, which consists of 1,450 acres west of the Kankakee River in Custer and Reed townships.
"We're honored to receive NACPRO's recognition for this important restoration project at Kankakee Sands Preserve," Schultz said. "Not only are we restoring the preserve to as near a pre-settlement condition as possible, we also are working to link other critical habitat in the area. We've been lucky to work with some great partners in achieving our mission at the site."
In addition to planting hundreds of native species, restoration efforts have included: re-establishing natural hydrology, controlling invasive species, reintroducing fire by way of controlled burns, and implementing a deer population management program.
The combined nature preserve area supports:
- 700 native plant species
- 500 wildlife species
- 12 threatened or endangered plant species
- 2 threatened or endangered turtle species and seven insects listed as "species in greatest need of conservation."
Once restored, the land will provide habitat for cross-pollination, animal movement, and suitable microhabitats for a wide diversity of insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and other wildlife, including the threatened and endangered species.
The recent award of an Illinois Special Wildlife Grant in the amount of $122,000 from the IDNR will allow the Forest Preserve to further advance this large-scale restoration project.
Visitors to Kankakee Sands can easily enjoy this site from a newly constructed access that includes a 2.5 mile loop trail through the preserve. Hikers and bicyclists who visit Kankakee Sands can enjoy opportunities for birding, botanizing and nature photography.
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