By Don Miller
Education Director, Severson Dells Nature Center
Thursday, April 22, will be the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Four decades ago, we were on the cusp of some important legislation: clean air, clean water, and an Endangered Species Act to protect species on the brink. Where are we now? Is the answer…inside?
After that question, let me ask this to get your green corduroys fluffed up some: has Earth Day turned into another “greeting card holiday”?
Earth Day should be a celebration of the awe, beauty and mystery that is found on this incredible planet. And it should be celebrated every day! Not by sending cards or watching some predators eat another prey on TV, but by getting outside and exploring firsthand your back yard, your region, and beyond.
Can you identify 10 different species of birds? Do you know where some of the biggest sycamores grow? What two rivers meet at Two Rivers Forest Preserve? Have you ever seen an ant lion track? What the heck is an ant lion? If you are even thinking about “Googling” to find the answers, I hope a spider virus puts dew all over your World Wide Web.
OK, enough with the fun stuff. On this Earth Day, April 22, report to Anna Page Park in Rockford at 6 p.m. for the first of this year’s Wildflower Walkabouts. This is the beginning of a series of walks to acquaint you with this region’s true treasure: the flora and fauna sharing this living space with us. These weekly walks take place at a variety of ecosystems, and are intended to introduce visitors to wonderful natural places in the region. The walks allow you to know the trails and be introduced to some of the local flora and fauna, while hanging out with some pretty interesting people.
The original land survey that described Winnebago County in the early 1840s depicted the area as approximately 30 percent forest and 70 percent prairie. Today, much of the prairie has been converted to agriculture and urban use, and much of the forest has been timbered. Currently, about 6 percent of the county remains forested, and about 0.1 percent, or 300 acres of the county, is original prairie.
These remnant natural areas are important to educate us about our county’s natural heritage, and to provide critical habitats for an array of our unique flora and fauna. Chet Raymos says if we can imagine all the knowledge we possess to be an island and the lake surrounding that island is the unknown, then the coastline in-between is our wonder. And he figures as our island of knowledge grows, then so, too, does our wonder and curiosity. Such is the case on these walks. The more you see and learn only leaves you wanting and questioning more.
Severson Dells Nature Center and the Natural Land Institute sponsor these programs, but a host of Four Rivers Coalition organizations lead the walks. See www.seversondells.org for the walk list or call (815) 335-2915 or (815) 964-6666 for more information.
Barbara Williams, one of the best naturalists in the county, will lead the guided hike at Anna Page Park. Barbara will lead us through a variety of natural communities, from creek bottoms to maple forests, and we may see marsh marigolds, trillium, blue-eyed Marys and numerous other wildflowers and spring birds. It promises to be a great way to spend Earth Day, and it will spark, or rekindle, a thirst to celebrate it every day.
For more about Severson Dells, visit seversondells.com.
From the April 21-27, 2010 issue