Mary Lou Lael Receives Surprise Rotary Award for her Wetland Restoration

As our regular readers know, Mary Lou Lael has been working with Vern LaGesse and occasionally with the Friends of the Sangamon Valley to restore her former farm fields into prairies and wetlands. Mary Lou is a retired grade school teacher, but that doesn’t keep her from hosting classes of kids at her property for seed collecting, frog catching, and good clean fun in the mud. Not to mention her amazing cookies.

Mary Lou’s dedication to conservation and restoration was recently honored with an award from the Jacksonville Rotary Club. Only she didn’t know it was for her. Her friends wanted to surprise her, so they told her the award was for Vern because of all the assistance he’d given her. She bought it, and showed up to the ceremony ready to laud Vern for this and that and tell stories about him.

Good hearted people are so easy to turn the tables on. The award was for her, and surprised she was. Once over the shock, she enjoyed the day and basked in the accolades.

 

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Mary Lou Lael at the Jacksonville Rotary Club after being surprised by receiving a Paul Harris Fellowship.

Mary Lou is a classy lady, and shortly after the event, Vern received this beautiful note from her:

Dear Vern, It was such a delight to see a table of some of my favorite people last
Friday at Rotary—all there to honor you. The Paul Harris award does belong to you as much as to me. You had the vision to see something beyond the scope of my experience, something that has brought, and daily continues to bring me such joy. As Willa Cather said, “Anybody can love the mountains, but it takes a soul to love the prairie.” Thank you for being part of the surprise, for your kind words, and especially for bringing a dream (I didn’t even know I had) to life. My sincere thanks and appreciation, ML.

I’m not crying, you’re crying. Congratulations, Mary Lou!!

Written by Executive Director Vern LaGesse. Support this and other Friends of the Sangamon Valley project by donating or becoming a member. Membership page or PayPal Link

 

FoSV 2018 Fundraiser Thanks!

Our October 5, 2018 tour of Nipper Wildlife Preserve featuring a Ben Bedford concert at Sheedy Shores Winery was a great success. And we owe it to one of the Friend’s newest board members, Steve Warmowski, who just about single-handedly orchestrated the whole event. Everything went so well, we may as well give him credit for the weather too, which was fantastic.

Executive Director Vern LaGesse had a huge tour at next door Nipper Wildlife Preserve in the early evening, with spectacular skies (see photos of the event on our Facebook page). Ben’s concert was well-attended and gave him an opportunity to showcase recently released material before heading out on a European tour. Cindy & Dick Nagle surprised Vern by gifting him with an auction item, a picture of Vern and his recently departed lil’ Buddy. Not a dry eye in the house.

We’re grateful to the folks at Sheedy Shores who provided such a great venue, the Honeycomb Grill food truck by the Soap Co. Coffee House in Jacksonville, who we bought out of everything they had, Chris Young for his amazing photos, and to all our attendees who stayed, drank, and had a great time.

Thanks to Steve and Warmowski Photography for all your efforts. Let’s do it again!

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Ben Bedford in concert. Photo by Steve of Warmowski Photography
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Sheedy Shores Winery at sunset. Photo by Steve of Warmowski Photography
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Honeycomb Grill by The Soap Co. Coffee House. Photo by Steve of Warmowski Photography

And thanks to all our members who attended our membership appreciation event. We have a members only Tour of Gudmundson Property & Sangamon River Float 11am April 13, 2019  Join us for a walking tour of the Sangamon River bluffs and floodplain of our new acquisition north of the Springfield airport. Meet at Howard Johnson’s parking lot, Rt. 29, just south of the airport and we’ll caravan to the property. Tour will be followed by an optional float to Rolling Meadows Brewery. Canoes can put in on the Gudmundson property, about five miles upstream of the brewery. Those who stay behind can join us for a hot dog cook out, with a caravan to Rolling Meadows afterwards.
Canoe availability is limited. Contact Vern to reserve a place on the float.

Nipper Wetland Study Update

The Friends’ surface water quality study at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary is ongoing. The Friends are collecting surface water chemistry data and information on water levels and flow into and out of the wetlands to quantify the nutrient load moving through the wetlands and what this might mean for replicating wetland restoration on other properties.

Besides providing great habitat, wetlands are thought to be beneficial for trapping and controlling nutrients and agricultural-related compounds such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Wetland sediments and wetland vegetation can trap these nutrients and keep them from entering streams, rivers, and lakes at excessive or harmful concentrations.

The five wetlands at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary treat runoff and discharge from adjacent agricultural field drainage tiles and from a 70-acre drainage area. In 2016, the City of Springfield and the Sangamon County Soil and Water Conservation District studied nitrate in surface water throughout the watershed. The Nipper wetlands were included in the study, with surface water samples taken in the first wetland (i.e., southern- most, the pond at the nature center) and at the downstream outlet of the fifth wetland (i.e., northernmost, near Lick Creek). The results indicated a significant reduction of nitrates, apparently due to biofiltration and plant uptake.

To build on this, the Friends of the Sangamon Valley initiated a two-year study of the wetlands’ water quality. Funded by the Nipper Foundation and the Brandt Foundation, the Friends contracted with Northwater Consulting to develop the study, conduct the ongoing monitoring and provide a report interpreting the results. We’ve also been able to purchase lab equipment and supplies. Having our own resources to conduct such studies will help build our capacity to conduct similar studies with other streams and wetlands in our watershed.

 

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Tour of Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary, Loami at Friends of the Sangamon Valley’s Prairie Days, 2017. Photo for FoSV by Steve Warmowski.

 

The Friends has gathered about six months of data so far. The first three months experienced some glitches with data analysis. As the winter and spring progresses, and we’ve become more consistent with data collection and analysis, we’ll have more information that we can start evaluating.

With continued guidance from Northwater, Charlene Falco (FoSV board member and board secretary) is operating the lab and overseeing the sampling scheduling. We are trying to set up two teams: one for sampling and one for the lab. If you are interested in helping out with sampling or lab work, contact Charlene at 217 525.1410. We have trained three volunteers to assist with field sampling and one other volunteer for lab work. We have a few prospects for additional lab workers, but are interested in finding more.

For water sampling, be prepared to get wet. We wade into the wetlands to get samples, or we might use a canoe. Either way, you’ll get at least a little bit wet. It’s helpful to have waders when the water is colder, but if you don’t have waders or don’t want to get in the water, you can be a data recorder. We usually sample the second or third week of the month, and usually on Saturdays or Sundays. Sampling takes about a couple of hours.

For lab work, previous experience would be great, but it’s not required. Patience, fine motor control, and an ability to follow instructions is a must. Be prepared to work at least four hours at a time, usually on a Saturday or Sunday. We do some of the analyses as soon as possible after sample collection, so lab work usually occurs the third and fourth week of the month. Some analyses are conducted later, within 28 days of sample collection.

It’s an interesting project and we’re learning as we go along. We’re always interested in finding new ways to look at our natural areas and to learn more about them and more about how they interact and contribute to the world around them.

You can help us carry on conservation work like this by becoming a member or by donating. How to on our membership tab.

Twenty Years and Counting

By Vern LaGesse

There once were 8-acres for sale east of Carpenter Park, and I remember meeting with a group of about 10 people on Bill Crook’s front porch and the topic was “How do we acquire those 8 acres?” In 1998, we formed the Friends of Carpenter Park, and filed for our 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status and with a little help, we registered with the State of Illinois and filed our articles of incorporation and by-laws.

 

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Vern LaGesse (right) and Randy Boyle share some stories around a workday fire at Boyle Woods. Vern & Randy met through Randy’s father who sold Boyle Woods to the Friends. Good friends in good places, it’s every day with FOSV.

We had several stewardship workdays removing exotic species, planting a couple thousand trees in Gergen Park, inventorying the plant and insects of the Carpenter Park and documented that Carpenter Park had one of the largest concentrations of old-growth trees in central Illinois. Several oaks and sycamores were over two hundred years old, with several white oaks over 300 and 400 years old. I found one white oak that was 580 years old.

We found out that the asking price for the land was $8 per square foot, which was the commercial value for development. So, we had discussions about what to do if someone gave us 2 million dollars: Would we buy the 8 acres or several hundred acres somewhere else? We didn’t really answer that question outright, but we expanded our coverage area to the surrounding counties and with a request to the IRS and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, we changed our name to Friends of the Sangamon Valley.

And every few years, we expanded. While working with Old Salem Chautauqua Homeowners Association on redesigning their old pond into a wetland and smaller pond to handle stormwater runoff, we were given our first land donation, the Knuppel Wildlife Sanctuary, a 9-acre tract adjacent to Old Salem Chautauqua. Then, in an article about the work we were doing in Washington Park, George Rose was quoted that “we were not afraid to use chainsaws in our restorations.” That single line landed our second land donation of 68-acres, the Wolf Preserve, near New Salem State Park on Boy Scout Trail Road. In the following years we acquired Robinson Woods, Boyle Woods, the Ivarene Wildlife Sanctuary, the Gudmundson property, and Walden West.

We established some great working partnerships which have turned into long term management agreements at Carver Yocum Homestead, South Fork Nature Reserve, and Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary. Not to mention our numerous other short and longer term partnerships and projects at Glenwood Woods, Hickory Point, Adams Wildlife Sanctuary and many other private owners.

So now after land purchases, donations, legacy donations, we are owners of over 300 acres. With our partners like the City of Springfield, the Springfield Park District, Sangamon County, and the Nipper Foundation, we are managing over 3000 acres within the nine- county Lower Sangamon River watershed area.

Our volunteers have always been and still are our best asset and we couldn’t maintain this much land with- out them. And as much as we’d like hard work and good intentions to be all that matters, when dealing with land, money speaks, too. Our donors and members continue to make it all possible.

It seems like it was just a few years ago we were meeting on Bill’s porch. No one has given us $2 million dollars yet, but we’ve done well. I invite you to come out to an event or work day and tell us your favorite Friends experience or story. You will be with good friends, you will probably learn something and you might have an experience to talk about in another 20 years.

I hope to meet all of you when you do.

Make a donation using PayPal – consider making it a monthly contribution. Thanks!

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Part of the celebration of 20 years of the Friends of the Sangamon Valley – a concert by Ben Bedford at Sheedy Shores Winery next to Nipper Wildlife Preserve, to celebrate the contributions of our volunteers and donors. Photo by Steve of WarmowskiPhotography.com

Prairie Days Bird Banding Results

Our second annual Prairie Days was held June 9 at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary in Loami. The crowd was smaller than we hoped, but with the threat of thunderstorms all day, we were happy to host the folks that came out. We had a great time, and the birds stole the show. Our bird banding friends from the Lincoln Land Association of Bird Banders deployed six mist nets at various points throughout the north and south prairies. From morning through early afternoon, they captured, banded, and released 38 individual birds of 20 different species. In addition to some of the more unusual species encountered, such as the Yellow-breasted Chat, they recaptured a Gray Catbird banded at last year’s Prairie Days.

 

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Tony Rothering holds a Great Crested Flycatcher at his banding station at Nipper (Lincoln Land Association of Bird Banders – Lincoln Land Community College).

Here’s a list of all the species banded and released. The number of individuals banded is in parentheses:

  • American Goldfinch (3)
  • American Robin (1)
  • Black-capped Chickadee (1)
  • Brown-headed Cowbird (1)
  • Cedar Waxwing (1)
  • Common Yellowthroat (6)
  • Dickcissel (1)
  • Downy Woodpecker (1)
  • Field Sparrow (1)
  • Gray Catbird (7)
  • Great-Crested Flycatcher (1)
  • House Wren (1)
  • Indigo Bunting (2)
  • Northern Cardinal (2)
  • Orchard Oriole (2)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (3)
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1)
  • Warbling Vireo (1)
  • Yellow-breasted Chat (1)
  • Yellow Warbler (1)

 

Thanks to Tony Rothering and the Lincoln Land Association of Bird Banders for their expertise, and great rap- port with the public. They are a pleasure to work with and are very knowledgeable about local birds and bird banding.

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Yellow Breasted Chat, one of the larger warblers, held by Tony Rothering, after being banded at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary.

Star Party at Nipper

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Star party at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo by Chris Young.

What’s almost as much fun as seeing Saturn through a telescope? Listening to someone else who’s obviously seeing it for the first time. It never fails to bring a gasp or a cry of joy, as if we thought the astronomers had been yanking our chains the whole time.

Dark skies in July brought Boy Scouts and the Friends together for a Star Party at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary in Loami. Friends volunteers Nick Klobuchar and Chris Young set their telescopes to view Jupiter and her moons and Saturn. Chris, Chris’ son, Phillip, and Nick were our guides to a mysterious part of our world, sharing with us their knowledge of the night skies, planets, constellations, and how the telescopes worked.

As people started to arrive and dusk fell, Nick showed us that we didn’t always need a telescope, and pointed out Mercury while Phillip named different stars that were peeking out. Then when it got dark, the vast field of stars resolved into sharp focus in the ‘scopes as we gazed at our fellow planets.

 

Water Quality Study Gets Underway at Nipper

The Friends of the Sangamon Valley’s surface water quality study at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary is underway. The Friends are collecting surface water chemistry data and information on water levels and flow into and out of the wetlands to quantify the nutrient load moving through the wetlands and what this might mean for replicating wetland restoration on other properties.

Besides providing great habitat, wetlands are thought to be beneficial for trapping and controlling nutrients and agri- cultural-related compounds such as ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Wetland sediments and wetland vegetation can trap these nutrients and keep them from entering streams, rivers, and lakes at excessive or harmful concentrations.

 

pair of engineers stand next to wetland
Northwater Consulting’s Jeff and Sarah survey a Nipper Wildlife Preserve wetland with data logger and contemplate the cost/benefit analysis of using volunteer labor.

 

The five wetlands at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary treat runoff and discharge from adjacent agricultural field drainage tiles and from a 70-acre drainage area. In 2016, the City of Springfield and the Sangamon County Soil and Water Conservation District studied nitrate in surface water throughout the watershed. The Nipper wetlands were included in the study, with surface water samples taken in the first wetland (i.e., southernmost, the pond at the nature center) and at the downstream outlet of the fifth wetland (i.e., northernmost, near Lick Creek). The results indicated a significant reduction of nitrates, apparently due to biofiltration and plant uptake.

 

To build on this, the Friends of the Sangamon Valley initiated a two-year study of the wetlands’ water quality. Funded by the Nipper Foundation and the Brandt Foundation, the Friends contracted with Northwater Consulting of Springfield to develop the study, conduct the ongoing monitoring and provide a report interpreting the results.

Water quality samples are being collected and analyzed in a joint effort with Northwater and Friends volunteers. Many of the samples will be analyzed at Nipper where an on-site analytical lab has been set up. Samples will periodically be sent to Prairie Analytical in Springfield as a quality control check. Samples are being analyzed for ammonia, nitrogen, nitrate, nitrite, and total and dissolved phosphorus. Water levels are also being tracked with staff gauges. Groundwater wells have been installed and will provide data to track groundwater elevations, flow direction and flow velocity.

Samples will be collected at least monthly. And to best determine the inputs coming into the wetlands, samples need to be collected during storm events when runoff is occurring into the wetlands. It’s tough to mobilize a sampling team on short notice, but this will sort itself out as we get more proficient.

Thanks to the Nipper and Brandt Foundations, the Friends has been able to purchase lab equipment and supplies. Having our own resources to conduct such studies will help build our capacity to con- duct similar studies with other streams and wetlands in our watershed.

The study is just starting and the Friends are still learning the ropes. Northwater’s Jeff Boeckler and Sarah Lindholm will continue to be involved in data collection and consulting. This year is shaping up to be a dry run, so to speak, and we will be able to train some people up once we smooth out the routine. We’ll provide future updates as the project progresses.

 

Get a tour of Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary Friday 5 October 2018. A sunset tour of Nipper starts at 5:30 p.m., the opening act for a benefit concert by Ben Bedford at Sheedy Shores Winery, south of Loami. Join in the evening celebration of our volunteers and donors, details on our Facebook event page

Ben Bedford Concert and Celebration of FoSV Volunteers

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photo by Kari Bedford

Join the Friends of Sangamon Valley in a celebration of the conservation work our volunteers and donors make possible with a special performance by Ben Bedford Friday October 5 at Sheedy Shores Winery, Inc. 10300 Johns Creek Road, south of Loami.

Pre-party starts at 5:30pm with a sunset tour of Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary​. The concert starts at 7pm next door on the Sheedy Shores patio, and features music from Ben’s new album The Hermit’s Spyglass.

You read that right – the best opening act for Ben Bedford is all of creation.

The Soap Co. Coffee House #honeycombgrill food truck will be on hand with food for sale. Evening also features silent auction, 50/50 and cash bar. Please bring your friends and invite them to donate at the door and support our conservation efforts!

Please help spread the word . . .

Concert sponsored by Warmowski Photography. Please message us to donate for auction or other partnership opportunities.

Please check the event page the night of the concert for any weather, parking or other advisories, or where to join the tour if you’re running late.

In case of inclement weather the show will go on inside the winery and/or inside the Nipper Wildlife center.

Winter/Spring 2018 Workdays

Volunteers hold tools, prepare to spray herbicide, on hillside covered with prairie grass.
Friends of the Sangamon Valley workday at the Lael Wetland March 2018.

Friends of the Sangamon Valley holds regular workdays with our dedicated volunteers, helping us preserve our natural heritage in the Sangamon River Watershed.

Here’s our listing of workdays for winter/spring 2018. Please join us! Other ways to support our efforts are to become a member, or donate via PayPal (and consider making it a monthly contribution). Give to provide our volunteers the tools and herbicides needed to get the job done.

  • Every Tuesday in March (6, 13, 20, 27) at Hickory Point Woods 10- noon
  • Every Thursday in March (1, 8, 15, 22, 29) at Adams Wildlife Sanctuary from 10-noon
  • March 3 Saturday Lael Wetland 10-noon
  • March 10 Saturday Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, Mushroom Workshop 1-3
  • March 24 Saturday Wolf Preserve 10-noon
  • Every Tuesday in April (3, 10, 17, 24 + May 1) at Hickory Point Woods 10-noon
  • Every Thursday in April (5, 12, 19, 26 + May 3) at Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 10-noon
  • April 21 Saturday Wolf Preserve 10-noon
  • April 28 Saturday South Fork Nature Reserve 10-noon

Visit Facebook for latest updates. Unless noted otherwise, meet at the location at the times listed above. Work gloves and boots are recommended for all work days. All other equipment is provided. Contact Vernon LaGesse via the Facebook page for more information or for directions.

Note our workdays are limited to 2 hours. As our executive director says – anything more than that would be work. 

Properties we own or help maintain . . .

  • Adams Wildlife Sanctuary: Illinois Audubon Society’s sanctuary in Springfield.
  • Hickory Point Woods: East on Toronto Road, to West Lake Drive, turn right continuing east. Turn right on Island Bay Lane, go past Hickory Point Lane, and park on the east side of the road next to the timber.
  • Knuppel Wildlife Sanctuary: Near Old Salem Chautauqua and Petersburg. Contact Vern to RSVP.
  • Lael Property: Contact Vern to RSVP.
  • Walden West: Near Manito. Contact Vern to RSVP.
  • Washington Park: George Rose will be scheduling workdays throughout the season as he is available. Contact Vern to get on phone tree.
Volunteers carrying loppers, tools on short-grass path, in hilly terrain, covered with native plants.
Heading back after two hours (to keep it fun) – workday at Lael Wetland.
Volunteers on hill, cutting invasive honeysuckle.
Volunteers cut invasive honeysuckle – Lael Wetland restoration project.

Friends of the Sangamon Valley is a charitable membership organization dedicated to the preservation of our natural heritage by acquiring, restoring, and protecting ecologically significant lands in the Sangamon River Watershed. Photography courtesy Steve/Warmowski Photography.