Day of Service at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Barn at Chellberg Farm, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo credit: Indiana Dunes flickr (

Here’s a great opportunity to visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Join us on September 28 for our Corporate Council Day of Service to help remove invasive species and collect native seeds at the Bailly Homestead and Chellberg Farm, a historic settlement in northwest Indiana. Afterward, explore nearby trails and historic sites or visit the dunes for an afternoon outside!

Visit for more information and to register to volunteer!


Day of Service at Pringle Nature Center

Pringle Nature Center is located in the 197-acre Bristol Woods County Park in Bristol, Wisconsin, that is currently working to restore Oak Savanna remnants as well as restoring a grassy area back to prairie. As with many restoration projects in the region, there are the usual invasive species  – garlic mustard, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose, just to name a few.

Join us on the morning of Saturday, September 28 to remove these non-native plants from the prairie and help the native plants to take root. This restoration activity will make the landscape more desirable for insects and other pollinators, and attract more birds to the area.

For additional information about the Corporate Council Day of Service and to register for a volunteer activity, visit

Day of Service at the Loyola University Retreat & Ecology Center

Great Blue Heron at Loyola Retreat & Ecology Center wetland area. Photo credit: Roberta Lammers-Campbell

The Loyola University Retreat & Ecology Center is home to two sensitive ecological areas – a wetland basin on the east end and a surrounding oak woodland – that the university is working to restore. Chicago Wilderness Day of Service volunteers will help clear out the wetland area in preparation for the installation of a temporary draining structure as the university studies longer-term alternatives. Volunteers will burn what is cleared from the wetlands and remove invasive species as necessary.

Prairie area under restoration. Photo Credit: Robert Lammers-Campbell

Volunteers may also have the opportunity to collect seeds in the prairie that will then be used to help restore other areas of the property. In the last year, 27 species of seed were collected and over 60 native plants have been identified. This year we hope to collect more seed varieties to grow the native plant community.

Visit to learn more about the Day of Service and to register to volunteer at Loyola’s beautiful Retreat & Ecology Center or another site near you!

Day of Service at McCormick Woods

Head out to McCormick Woods in Riverside, Illinois on September 28 to help remove invasive species and let the light shine on native undergrowth! Visit the Chicago Wilderness Day of Service webpage to learn about all 23 volunteer sites and register to spend the morning volunteering in nature!

Dutchman Breeches and Blue Cohosh 5 at McCormick Woods. Photo credit: Bill Marszalec

After a brief introduction to the McCormick Woods and its restoration history, volunteers will walk to a portion of the site infested with scattered colonies of buckthorn, an invasive woody species. The group will use loppers and hand saws to cut down buckthorn, which will then be burned on site. Around mid-morning, we’ll take a break to enjoy the natural surroundings over a few light snacks and conversation about the nature of the plants and animals at this site or within the Chicagoland region. Questions are always encouraged! At 11:30 am, we’ll gather tools and clean-up as we let the brush piles burn down.

Volunteers after a work day. Photo credit: Bill Marszalec

Upon finishing the brush-cutting activities, volunteers will feel an immediate sense of gratification as they watch the sun warm up the previously light-starved soil. The sunlight starts the germination process for the native plants that have to compete with invasive species such as buckthorn. The Day of Service volunteers will leave knowing that they helped native plant species rebound and reclaim their rightful place in the region where they have thrived for so many centuries.

Day of Service at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Have you been to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie? Join Chicago Wilderness on September 28 for our Corporate Council Day of Service to have fun while contributing to the health of this beautiful prairie!

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the first national tallgrass prairie and, at 19,000 acres, the largest piece of contiguous open space in northeastern Illinois. Join community members and partners at Midewin to celebrate the Chicago Wilderness Corporate Council Day of Service and National Public Lands Day by participating in one of these restoration activities and having fun outdoors:

  • Seed harvesting (great for all ages)
  • Invasive species removal at a historic farmstead
  • Trail maintenance
  • Aquatic insect collection
Kids can take part in the restoration activities or get creative at the craft/coloring table and flying disc area. At 12:30 pm, there is a complimentary lunch followed by more restoration work, a hike, or a visit with Woodsy Owl!


For additional information about the Day of Service and to register, visit


Day of Service at Fabyan Forest Preserve, Kane County

During September, we are sharing photos of sites that are part of the Chicago Wilderness Corporate Council Day of Service. On Saturday, September 28, individuals, families, community groups, companies, and more have the opportunity to spend time outside having fun, learning about restoration efforts, and contributing to the health of our region’s natural areas. Please visit the Day of Service webpage to learn more about all 23 volunteer sites. All of us – working together – can make a difference!

After volunteers cut down buckthorn, it is thrown into a fire.

Fabyan Forest Preserve is without question one of the most heavily used preserves in Kane County, owing to its location on the Fox River and its numerous natural and historic features. To ensure the 200-acre oak woodland remains an asset to the preserve, volunteers will remove buckthorn and honeysuckle – two invasive species that are impacting biodiversity within the woodland. The goal is to remove these invasive species so that sunlight can reach the ground floor, helping wildflowers to flourish and white oaks – our state tree – to regenerate themselves from acorns. This restoration work will also help increase the number of birds that visit the site by giving them room to migrate through the woodland while foraging for food.

To learn more about the Corporate Council Day of Service and to register for a volunteer site near you, visit


Volunteers & Grazers: Removing Invasive Species at Pringle Nature Center

Oak Savanna before restoration. Photo credit: Valerie Mann

By Valerie Mann

With a staff of one employee, Pringle Nature Center depends on the help of volunteers with restoration and other activities. Pringle is located in the 197-acre Bristol Woods County Park in Bristol, Wisconsin. While the nature center is not operated by the county, we do work in partnership with them when it comes to land management and restoration. We are currently working to restore Oak Savanna remnants as well as restoring a grassy area back to prairie. As with many restoration projects in the region, we have the usual invasive species  – garlic mustard, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose, just to name a few.

Oak Savanna, a highly endangered ecosystem, is an area where the Oak tree is the dominant species and in which the trees are spaced far apart with a grassland-type understory. Fire is an essential tool in order for the Oak Savanna to thrive because it clears out the detritus and other growth in the understory and provides nutrients to the soil for other plants to grow. However, due to some of the dangers that fire can pose to communities surrounding natural areas, fires are typically suppressed as quickly as possible. While there are prescribed burn practices to help restore and rejuvenate forested areas, at this time the County does not allow us to burn the woods. Therefore, on the third Saturday of the month from April to November, we rely on the help of volunteers to help clear the brush, remove invasive species, and open up areas around our magnificent Oaks.

Oak Savanna after volunteer restoration work. Photo credit: Valerie Mann

It’s always amazing to watch volunteers – ranging from groups of 2 to 20 people – have such an impact on an area of the Oak Savanna. Fortunately, we have individuals and groups that come out on a regular basis, including students from the University of Wisconsin at Parkside. Volunteers are led by our volunteer workday leader, Al Sommer, who motivates the college students and other to work hard. In addition, as a partner in the Mighty Acorns program, we are fortunate to work with the fifth grade class from Dimensions of Learning Academy in Kenosha. Through this program, students visit a site three times a year to help with stewardship activities, even in the winter weather when they help to cut back brush. Although our volunteers are able to clear large patches of land, we also purchased a brush mower using a grant from The Norcross Wildlife Foundation.

In addition to our hard-working volunteers, the Pringle Nature Center also enlisted the help of grazers. In March 2008, Kim Hunter from The Green Goats approached us about her entrepreneurial enterprise: using goats to help get rid of invasive plants! Together, we submitted and received a $4,000 grant from the Binky Foundation to purchase electric fencing and other materials to contain the goats as they consumed the invasive species – and helped to restore the Oak Savanna. Using grazers is also gaining traction as a restoration method because other techniques such as treating an area with chemicals have potential to be harmful to human health and negatively impact our natural areas.

Goats clearing invasive species. Photo credit: Valerie Mann

Since 2008 we have continued to use the goats, however, this isn’t the first time that grazers have helped to remove invasive species. When the Pringle Family lived on what is now the park, they owned cattle that roamed the woods. Bob Pringle, Jr., Director of the Board, remembers that when he was a child, he could see far into the woods in areas where the cattle grazed.

For more information and to get involved, visit

Fermilab Natural Areas Year-Round Battle with Invasive Species

During the month of August, we are featuring blog posts about invasive species in the Chicago Wilderness region and what member organizations are doing to help control invasive species and restore our natural areas. Found within the boundaries of the U.S. Department of Energy science laboratory Fermilab, Fermilab Natural Areas shared what they’re doing to combat invasive species on their 6,000+ acres year-round. 

By Ryan Campbell

It may seem like an odd thought in the middle of summer, but Fermilab Natural Areas has already set its sights on controlling invasive, woody shrubs during the cold of winter; it’s somehow refreshing to imagine the frozen, snowy ground and the freshly cut stumps of buckthorn. There is a certain magic in the winter air. With a thermos of coffee in hand, volunteers meet newcomers and reconnect with other devout brush-cutters.  We spend all winter working the edges of woodlands and clearing around witness trees with saws and loppers. Our target invaders are buckthorn, bush honeysuckle, Japanese barberry, burning bush, autumn olive, oriental bittersweet and European high-bush cranberry. Every Monday afternoon we plug along; we talk, laugh, work. By the time spring arrives, we almost don’t want to quit. The wildflowers are beautiful, but there is still more to do. There’s always just one more buckthorn to cut before we put the saws away.

Hard-working volunteer crew; photo courtesy of Fermilab Natural Areas

Spring fades into summer, and summer brings chaos. Our mission is to work as diligently as possible to prevent seeds from setting on a huge number of invasive weeds. Sometimes these species are overlapping in life cycles. Sometimes they require different methods of control, or the weather is hot, or humid, or full of mosquitoes. More often than not, it is all of those things.  We hope that our late-winter prescribed fires have killed many of the garlic mustard rosettes. If not, recruiting volunteers for hand pulling is our only option. The leaves of reed canary grass are a foot tall before you know it. Chemical control helps this over-achiever die back so that a wide variety of native wetland plants may thrive. At the same time, we are spraying the rosettes of poison hemlock before they bolt and grow to be eight feet tall.  Wild chervil and wild parsnip are next.  The former is a new invader that we keep a tight lid on with herbicide, while the parsnip is controlled by mowing.  Fortunately, we only have small populations of Japanese knotweed and hedge parsley so control can be quick and painless for us, but deadly for them.

Teasel control; photo courtesy of Fermilab Natural Areas

As the summer continues, we try to manage the large populations of crown vetch, birds-foot trefoil and sweet clover that have run rampant. We are currently fighting an uphill battle, but we hope to be in a maintenance stage within 10 years. Selective herbicides and seasonal timing may prove successful in controlling them. As July turns to August, we turn our attention toward several old invaders. These, however, are unlike the rampant crown vetch and sweet clover.  Teasel, purple loosestrife, spotted knapweed and Phragmites are all on an annual maintenance schedule. They have been controlled for a number of years, and the efforts show. Now the hardest part is taking the time to visit each known location throughout our 6,800 acres, usually multiple times.

Teseal and Loosestrife being removed; photo courtesy of Fermilab Natural Areas

In September, when the seasons really start shifting dramatically to winter, we ready our tools for woody stems. Our FECON attachment for the bobcat gets hungry for invasive shrubs. Any oriental bittersweet we have missed now has bright orange fruits hanging like flags. Monocultures of reed canary grass are treated chemically, making this the only species with two real seasons for control.  And when the first few frosts defoliate the vines of poison ivy, we go back into the woods with tools in our hands and smiles on our faces. Our commitment to controlling invasive species would not be possible without the efforts of summer students, volunteers, and our Fermilab grounds crew.

For those interested in joining this community of brush-cutters and weed pullers, Fermilab Natural Areas will be holding volunteer events throughout August. On Thursday, August 15th, volunteers can come out for the Third Thursday Lunchtime Cleanup. The following Saturday, August 17th, workers will ahead out to the Lederman Science Center to participate in habitat restoration. Every Tuesday of the month, the Weekly Working Group will meet to brainstorm at specific sites. Click here to see more events at Fermilab Natural Areas.


Trail Creek Fen Habitat Restoration

Volunteers installing native plant plugs grown in Save the Dunes’ greenhouse. Photo courtesy of Samantha Erdelac


By Samantha Erdelac, Stewardship Manager, Save the Dunes

Trail Creek Fen Nature Preserve (Trail Creek Fen) is a beautiful, ecologically rare 38-acre natural area located on the southwestern side of Michigan City, Indiana within the Trail Creek watershed. The property was acquired by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in the 1980s, and they later transferred ownership to Save the Dunes in 2005. The property includes a remnant savanna, dry/mesic woodland, riparian forest, and two high-quality gramnoid/forested fen habitats separated by the main branch of Trail creek. This fen habitat is extremely rare in our region.

The property consists of over 200 native plant species including dwarf birch (Betula nana), tamarack (Larix laricina), and state-threatened branched bur-reed (Sparganium androcladum), along with state-rare Baltimore checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton) and state-threatened spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata). Trail Creek Fen has one of the greatest displays of butterfly species that I have seen throughout Northwest Indiana, and also has a good number of Eastern box turtles.

The property was once home to pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), rounded-leaf sundews (Drosera rotundifolia), jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and grey birch (Betula populilfolia), but these plants and others have been lost due to various disturbances.  Two major disturbances include historic grazing within the dry/mesic woodland, and installation years ago of a gas pipeline right through the two fens and the remnant savanna. Threats to the ecosystem include woody and herbaceous invasive plant infestations and lack of controlled burns to help balance the woody and herbaceous plant populations. Very little management of Trail Creek Fen occurred throughout the years, leaving large infestations of invasive plant species replacing the native plant communities.

Large infestation of Oriental bittersweet that was treated within one of the upland habitats. Photo courtesy of Samantha Erdelac

In the spring of 2009, Save the Dunes received roughly $50,000 through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Sustain Our Great Lakes program to remove invasive plant species within the upland and wetland communities at Trail Creek Fen. This grant project allowed us to hire four interns, who received on-site training on habitat restoration. The grant also provided opportunities for the public to learn how to identify and remove invasive plants and the importance of controlled burns and maintaining native plant communities.

The funding allowed stewardship staff, interns, and volunteers to remove several acres of exotic shrubs, such as glossy buckthorn, autumn olive, bush honeysuckle, and multiflora rose. Oriental bittersweet was removed throughout much of the upland and forested fen habitats, along with isolated populations within the open fen areas. Large shrubs and vines were cut down and the stumps treated with herbicide, while smaller shrubs and vines received foliar herbicide treatments.

At the time, phragmites, hybrid cattails, and reed canary grass were also threatening the two fen communities. Staff and interns started removing these noxious wetland weeds – a significant threat to the high-biodiversity fen habitat. Removal treatments included foliar spraying and wicking depending on the size of infestation and the sensitivity of the area.

Staff and interns also started to remove garlic mustard and dame’s rocket that had taken over much of the property over the years, including the fen communities. These two exotic plants can be a challenge to remove due to the biennial lifecycle and abundant seeds that are produced from these plants, requiring follow-up treatments every year to reduce the amount of infestation on the property.

Thanks to help from our partners – Shirley Heinze Land Trust and Indiana Department of Natural Resources (Division of Nature Preserves) – we were able to conduct a controlled burn on a portion of the property to reduce woody species density and help establish native plants. The property had not seen a controlled burn for at least 5 years, and yet was essential to maintain the balance of woody and herbaceous plants and the overall health of the natural communities.

A controlled burn being conducted within one of the fens at Trail Creek Fen. Photo courtesy of Samantha Erdelac

Save the Dunes also grew over 3,700 plant plugs for the grant project from our solar greenhouse with native seed that was collected earlier by staff and volunteers on the property. These plugs were planted within the areas of the fen that underwent the greatest amount of phragmites and hybrid cattails removal.

After eliminating the invasive threats and conducting a controlled burn, we were happy to see native branched bur-reed reappear within parts of the fen, along with the appearance of a few new native plant species that had not yet been noted on the property.

As the grant ended in the fall of 2010, stewardship staff continue to maintain Trail Creek Fen to ensure that these invasive plant threats do not jeopardize all the hard work that our staff, interns, volunteers, and partners have accomplished thanks to the Sustain Our Great Lakes funding.

There is still much work to be done at this property, but with continual removal of invasive plants and routine controlled burns we hope to bring Trail Creek Fen back to its formal beauty.

NIIPP: Coordinated Effort to Hunt Hydrilla

During the month of August, we are featuring blog posts about invasive species in the Chicago Wilderness region and what member organizations are doing to help control invasive species and restore our natural areas. To start off the month, we invited Cathy McGlynn of the Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership (NIIPP) to provide an update on the Hydrilla Hunt, a public outreach campaign to help manage an aquatic superweed!

Hydrilla. Photo courtesy of Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership.

By Cathy McGlynn 

The Illinois Hydrilla Task Force launched its Hydrilla Hunt! on June 13th. The Hydrilla Hunt! is a program that uses education and outreach to raise awareness about the federally listed aquatic noxious weed Hydrilla among boaters, anglers, recreational water users and the general public. Hydrilla grows very quickly and produces dense mats of vegetation in the water that interfere with boating, fishing, swimming and enjoyment of recreational water activities. It also affects the value of waterfront properties. We are asking everyone to keep a lookout for this plant at their favorite lakes, ponds, and rivers until first frost arrives. Information about how to identify and report a possible infestation can be found here.

Since launching the program, the Task Force has contacted more than 22 media outlets, more than 48 non-government organizations, 15 governmental organizations, and regional marinas to spread the word.  We have also enlisted the help of the Illinois Lakes Management Association, Illinois Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, RiverWatch, Illinois EPA and Illinois Department of Natural Resources fisheries’ biologists to keep watch.  So far we have received three reports to our email account.  Fortunately, none of the photos submitted were of Hydrilla. However, we ask that people remain vigilant about looking for and reporting this species. When an infestation is reported early we have a chance of eradicating it quickly and relatively inexpensively before it has severe impacts on native plants and animals.

Hydrilla. Photo courtesy of Northeast Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership.

Ideally the best method for dealing with Hydrilla, or any aquatic invasive species, is prevention.  Removing aquatic plants and animals from boats and trailers, angling and recreational water equipment, and scuba gear is an easy solution to this problem and is now required by law effective January 1, 2013 (Illinois Boat Registration and Safety Act). Additional tips for maintaining your equipment and preventing the spread of aquatic invaders are provided by the new Illinois campaign “Be a Hero, Transport Zero” and offered in person by site leaders of the Clean Boats Crew. Everyone can do their part to protect our natural resources!