Some changes coming to Isle a la Cache in Romeoville this summer should entice more picnickers and pollinators to the preserve.
A large-capacity picnic shelter will be built, a new pollinator garden has been planted, and repairs to the Native American longhouse are wrapping up.
The Forest Preserve District’s board of commissioners recently approved a contract totaling $794,907 with D Construction for the installation of a large picnic shelter, a new latrine, parking lot rehabilitation, new walkways, landscaping and other amenities at the preserve.
The new rentable picnic shelter will be able to accommodate 150 people for programs, events and parties and it will feature a deck overlooking the Des Plaines River.
“The larger shelter will expand Isle a la Cache Museum’s programming footprint to the western part of the preserve,” said Chris Gutmann, facility supervisor at the site. “It will provide our visiting school groups with a much nicer and appropriately sized space to eat lunch during visits. It also will provide a lot more flexibility with activities for public programs and events.”
Because the museum is located in a highly populated area, Gutmann said he expects the shelter to become a much sought-after venue for picnic permits and non-District events. When it is completed, the new shelter will join three other rentable spaces at the museum: an indoor meeting room, an 18th-century replica Traders Cabin and an outdoor amphitheater.
Isle a la Cache’s new pollinator garden was planted in the spring and has been growing ever since. The garden will benefit monarch butterflies and other pollinators – including a variety of insects; bats; and hummingbirds – as they search for pollen and nectar and places to nest in a world where their habitat is disappearing.
The pollinator garden, which was partially paid for with a donation from The Nature Foundation of Will County, was planted in a portion of the preserve’s outdoor amphitheater space. Stone and turf seats are still available for groups who use the area for presentations. Plants that have been tucked into the seating area will only enhance the space, Gutmann said.
“Once the plants are established, the terraced layers of flowers will provide a stunning backdrop to gatherings and programs,” he said.
However, the primary goal of the garden is to help monarch butterflies and other pollinators as they buzz around the preserve, he added.
“The Isle has always been a popular spot for monarchs,” Gutmann said. “Now it’s even better. Also, the layout of this garden provides an opportunity to use it as a teaching garden and a grand example of how people can combine conservation and aesthetics. We’re hoping it inspires visitors to creatively build their own show-stopping pollinator gardens.”
The longhouse was built at Isle a la Cache 16 years ago and it was in need of repairs, Gutmann said. Timbers have been replaced and the exterior panels have been modified to make the structure more weather resistant and rot-proof.
“Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to work with representatives of indigenous nations who generously shared knowledge with us about how to properly maintain the longhouse,” Gutmann explained. “We’ve learned Native structures are symbiotic with fire, and fire is critical to the longevity of these structures.
“As such, we’ve begun regular maintenance fires inside the longhouse in order to keep the wood preserved and dry, and to minimize insect damage,” he added. “Overall, the work being done will make the Isle a la Cache longhouse better than ever, and it will ensure that visitors will be able to visit it for many years to come.”
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