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Into the Wild: Stone Bridge Forest Preserve: A regeneration of land and spirit

March 2, 2011

In recognition of the United Nations designation of 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity, the Four Rivers Environmental Coalition and The Rock River Times 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 fourriver.org.

By Randy and Jessie Mermel
Educators at Angelic Organics Learning Center and directors of The Dome Education and Gathering Center

Like the millions of acres of prairie and oak savanna that once covered the Midwest, farm land is now threatened because of development. As environmental activists, we are overjoyed to see land saved from sprawl. The Stone Bridge Forest Preserve is one such victory for conservation.

Living near the Stone Bridge Trail Recreation Path in Roscoe, we have enjoyed walking and biking the path with our boys since they were babies, and love to see other families taking advantage of this great path. Our family’s favorite spot is the Old Stone Bridge over Kinnikinnick Creek, one of the highest-quality cold-water streams in Illinois. The shallow, cool, clear water under the shade of the historical bridge built in 1882, overlooked by the remnant bur oak trees, provides nature’s perfect playground. So when a development sign showed up nearby illustrating the plats of another farm field for sale, this one being the land that Kinnikinnick Creek runs through, we were very concerned. Knowing a housing development on that land would compromise the creek and wildlife of the area, we called Natural Land Institute to make them aware of the land and see how we could help; but they already had their eyes on it.

In a series of land acquisitions beginning in 2007 through grants, donations and creative partnerships, the land was purchased for conservation, and 110 acres are now set aside for the future Stone Bridge Forest Preserve.

Restoration has been ongoing for two years, but it is expected to take another two years to restore the most recently acquired farmland to prairie and oak savanna before the preserve officially opens.

Although parking and trails have not yet been constructed, a wonderful view of Kinnikinnick Creek and the forest preserve can be seen atop the Old Stone Bridge, which is accessible by parking at Roland Olson Forest Preserve or at Leland Park in Roscoe and traveling on the bike path. A view of the scenic bridge, the only remaining double-arched limestone bridge in Winnebago County, can be seen by winding down the switch-back trail to the viewing platform. Be sure to keep an eye out for the local wildlife. Field sparrows, indigo buntings, fox snakes, Eastern bluebirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks, red fox, coyotes and sandhill cranes are among some of the wildlife that has been spotted in the new forest preserve.

The Natural Land Institute has organized several restoration events to give school groups, scouts, families and volunteers opportunities to lend a hand in restoring the land. These volunteers have removed buckthorn, box elder, black cherry and other invasive species from the remnant bur oak tree grove. In turn, the groups have planted acorns and a mix of prairie grass and wildflower seeds in an effort to re-establish health and diversity to the depleted farm land.

In November 2008, our family helped to plant acorns that we had collected earlier that autumn. The next year, we returned to monitor the growth of the oak seedlings and the health of the creek. We were pleased to learn that the oak plantings were exceeding NLI’s expectations of reseeding growth and survival.

In addition to the positive ecological impact and the educational opportunity inherent in restoration work, a meaningful connection is made by those who participate—a connection to nature and to each other. Research Field Station Ecologist Tom Simpson wrote, “The desire to conserve land and restore it to its former beauty comes not from facts, figures, and Latin names, but from the human spirit nourished through communion with nature.” It is through the direct experience with nature that people are inspired to conserve and restore it.

Recently, as we walked by the forest preserve and witnessed the prairie seed heads popping through the snow, we thought of all the hands that helped to plant them. We were filled with gratitude and hope for good things to come.

From the March 2-8, 2011, issue

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