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Into The Wild: Kinnikinnick Creek Conservation Area: a natural history

March 17, 2010

Kinnikinnick Creek Conservation Area--where the prairies of southern Boone County meet the hardwood forests and oak savannas of northern Boone County. Photo provided

As with “No Child Left Inside,” welcome to a new series of articles in partnership with Four Rivers Environmental Coalition (FREC) and

The Rock River Times. In recognition of the United Nations designation of 2010 as the Year of Biodi-versity, the FREC presents this bi-weekly series to help readers discover the amazing array of plants and animals in the rivers, prairies and woodlands “in our own back yard.” FREC is an alliance of 35 member organizations “dedicated to educating and advocating for the plants, animals, natural resources and ecosystems of the Four Rivers Region.” Please visit www.fourriver.org.

By Joshua Sage
Restoration Projects Manager, Boone County Conservation District

In the northwest corner of Boone County lies Kinnikinnick Creek Conservation Area, which is managed by the Boone County Conservation District (BCCD). This 400-plus-acre parcel is in a unique location in Boone County. It is where the prairies of southern Boone County meet the hardwood forests and oak savannas of northern Boone County. This makes for a very diverse mix of edge habitat, an ecotone where two habitats battle over territory.

Two unique features of this conservation area are the south branch of the Kinnikinnick Creek and a 100-acre nature preserve. The Kinnikinnick Creek that runs through the heart of this conservation area contains a good number of its natural meanders, making it able to move freely. The nature preserve is one of the highest quality woodlands in the county. It contains white oak, red oak, shagbark hickory, bitternut hickory, muscle wood and hop hornbeam. Within the woodland, a unique groundcover is present that shows off its beauty every spring before the canopy of leaves shade the forest floor. This is a spectacular site, and a good way to spend a mid-spring day.

This conservation area was purchased by the BCCD in a number of separate acquisitions between 1966 and 1974. Before the BCCD purchased these properties, the lands consisted of woodlands, row crops, pasture, and pine tree plantations. In one recent project, some of the pine plantations were removed completely, and others were thinned. The non-native red pines were removed to make room for an oak and hickory woodland that will sit adjacent to the nature preserve. The white pine trees were thinned for the health of the stand. These pines were planted in rows a number of years ago and were too crowded, which made the competition for light, water and nutrients difficult. The trees that remain will be healthier.

As a result of a number of circumstances, Kinnikinnick Creek Conservation Area has become ecologically degraded by an over-abundance of invasive plants. These plants out-compete the high-quality native plants if left unmanaged. Over the last 10 years, the BCCD has made a commitment to manage conservation areas to provide high-quality native habitat and biological diversity. This work is going strong at Kinnikinnick Conservation Area, and some dramatic changes are taking place. Removing non-native and invasive plants, especially trees, is a dramatic undertaking. If done correctly, it does little harm to the native plant materials or the soil structure.

If you are interested in learning more about land management techniques and the natural history of Kinnikinnick Creek Conservation Area, a program will be given about this topic Thursday, March 25, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Gustafson Nature Center, 603 N. Appleton Road, in Belvidere.

From the March 17-23, 2010 issue

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