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Sand Ridge Savanna restoration effort earns Chicago Wilderness award

Two men hold an award.
Floyd Catchpole, land management program coordinator (left), and Andrew Hawkins, director of planning and development, accepted the award.

Extensive, multiyear restoration efforts at the Forest Preserve District’s Sand Ridge Savanna Nature Preserve have been acknowledged with an “Excellence in Ecological Restoration” award from Chicago Wilderness. 

The District received the award on Jan. 17 at a “Celebration of Conservation” banquet at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle. 

The award provides recognition for excellence in management of natural communities and sites and demonstrates on-the-ground commitment to the Biodiversity Recovery Plan established by the Chicago Wilderness Alliance, a regional collaborative of hundreds of partner organizations and individuals working to implement landscape-scale approaches to conservation.

Sand Ridge Savanna in Custer Township is a 941-acre preserve that contains a 625-acre state-designated nature preserve. Almost all the former agricultural acreage at Sand Ridge Savanna has been restored to prairie through work by the Forest Preserve’s conservation department.

Seeding of the site is performed annually and some areas are overseeded. A prescribed fire program burns the site every two to three years. The hydrology of the preserve has been restored by closing ditches and removing drain tiles. Also, beavers have returned to some areas of the prairie and their activity is improving land adjacent to streams and creeks.

The preserve features a sandy, glacial lakebed with scattered, low, wind-blown dunes. This landscape supports ponds, marshes, wet- to dry-mesic prairie, sedge meadow, sand flatwood, dry-mesic savanna, shrub prairie, button bush swamp and high-gradient creek areas. 

Sand Ridge Savanna is monitored yearly for plants of concern, upland birds, state-threatened rattlesnake master (eryngium) stem borer moth and ornate box turtles. 

The Forest Preserve has received Excellence in Ecological Restoration awards in the past for restoration work at Braidwood Dunes and Savanna Nature Preserve (gold, 2021; platinum, 2013), Hickory Creek Barrens Nature Preserve (platinum, 2014), Hadley Valley Preserve (silver, 2019), and Lockport Prairie East (gold, 2017). The 2023 award for Sand Ridge Savanna is gold. 

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