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.
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.
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