Free Workshops & Training – Winter 2020

The Friends of the Sangamon Valley is highly dependent on a well-trained group of volunteers. Here’s your opportunity to attend a workshop that’ll give you the skills, certification, and right safety mindset to make our work days and projects a success.

All the workshops are free, but space is limited, so contact Vern 525.1410 to save a spot or for more information. Take the opportunity to learn some new things, meet some new folks, or just have fun.

Herbicide Training • 1-3pm Saturday January 11 at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary
Herbicide Training sessions cover equipment, safe practices, protective clothing, how to read pesticide labels, and how we use herbicides in our work. Classroom session, followed by an outdoors session (weather permitting). You must attend one of these sessions and receive your certificate in order to work with herbicides on our projects.

Annual Meeting • 11-1 Saturday February 1 at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary
Hear about our last year and upcoming year. Vote for board members. Eat great chilli! Free! Contact Vern 525.1410 to let us know you’re coming.

Chainsaw Workshop • 9-noon Advanced/1-4 Beginners Saturday February 8 at Adams Wildlife Sanctuary
If you’d like to learn to use a chainsaw or want to check in with someone to make sure you’re doing it right, then you should come to our chainsaw workshops. Learn from experienced sawers and get answers to your “how to” questions. Field practice included. Any attendees from the Advanced session that stay to help out with the Beginners session will get a free lunch.

Fire Training • 1-4 Saturday February 22 at Adams Wildlife Sanctuary
One of the most important management tools is fire used in a controlled manner. We use controlled burns for prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. Classroom session covers principles and practices, including weather conditions, safe practices, equipment, and fire behavior. Field practice to follow, weather permitting.

Fire Training • 1-4 Saturday February 29 at Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary
Same as previous week, but at Nipper.

Click on Facebook links above for more event details, maps/directions and to add to discussion. Here’s a link to our Facebook page @TheFoSV – and note our volunteers are more active on Facebook than this blog/web site. So be sure to check the page and the events listed on the page for more updates on The Friends.

Location data for workshops …

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary
2315 E Clear Lake Ave, Springfield, Illinois 62703

Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary
9560 Withers Rd, Loami, Illinois 62661

The Friends of the Sangamon Valley and Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary

Thanks to WSEC TV PBS Springfield’s Illinois Stories for the story on The Friends of the Sangamon Valley and Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary. If you haven’t seen it, click the link to watch on YouTube.

We have several events coming up in 2019 at Nipper (Facebook Event links below), and you can see firsthand all the things Mark McDonald discovered in his interview of our Executive Director Vernon LaGesse.

Directions: Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary is located 10 miles southwest of Springfield at 9560 Withers Road near Loami. From Springfield/Chatham take East Loami Road west to Lead Line Road. Turn South (left) on Lead Line Road to Withers Road. Turn west (right) on Withers Road. Go about 0.5 mile until you see the entrance sign. Parking lot on site.

Nipper is a private, 120-acre prairie sanctuary established in 1995 for the protection of wildlife and to educate the public. Site details. The sanctuary is open all days, daylight hours.

Follow us on Facebook. You can help The Friends of the Sangamon Valley with our land conservation and habitat restoration work by donating or becoming a member. Please explore the information on this blog, and explore our Places & Projects.
Butterfly Weed (Milkweed)
Prairie Days wetland tour
FOSV_Sunset_Tour2 (1)
Sunset Tours
Executive Director Vernon LaGesse on Illinois Stories (WSEC)

Additional upcoming events …

Seeds from the Earth Awareness Fair

Hello to everyone who checked in at our table at Saturday’s Earth Awareness Fair at the Old State Capitol! You can explore this blog and our Facebook page to find out more about The Friends of the Sangamon Valley.


We had some give-aways Saturday of native plants collected by one of our volunteers (note these seeds have been kept cool over winter, so they are ready to plant!) Other received some seed packets from Monarch Landscaping & Garden Center.

Find a small sunny spot in your yard, and you can create habitat for pollinators, insects and birds (just like The Friends do, but on a smaller scale).


Please join our non-profit organization! We rely on donors to pay for the equipment and support our volunteers at our habitat restoration projects in the Springfield region. Thanks!

Winter/Spring Events for Friends of the Sangamon Valley

The Friends of the Sangamon Valley has a bunch of events planned for the first part of 2019. Here’s the info, be sure to follow us on Facebook for updates, and be sure to join so you’re always notified via our newsletter . . .

Annual Meeting – walk of Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary11am Saturday February 9 – includes a short walk (weather permitting) with tour of wetlands, followed by chili. Presentation of annual report by Vernon LaGesse on our group’s activities and a slideshow featuring highlights of our 20 years in conservation. Great event to attend if you’re interested in joining, becoming a volunteer or serving in a leadership position. At Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary (from Springfield or Chatham, take E. Loami Rd. west to Lead Line Rd. Turn south (left) on Lead Line to Withers Rd. Turn west (right) on Withers. Go about a 1/2 mile until you see the entrance sign for the Sanctuary; parking lot on site. 9560 Withers Rd., Loami.)


Chainsaw WorkshopSaturday February 23 – Get ready to volunteer in 2019 volunteer by sharpening your skills at free training workshops.

ADVANCED class from 10am-noon, for those who already took a beginner course. You will learn techniques for dropping larger trees. You must register in advance, limited space available. Call Vern 525.1410. LUNCH will be made available for those who stay to help with the . . .

BEGINNER class from 1-3pm, if you have a chainsaw and want to know how to use it safely. We will cover chainsaw operation, safety, maintenance, battery-powered saws, and how to cut small trees and shrubs. You must register in advance by calling Vern 525.1410.

Hopefully you’ll be volunteering on our work days. But if this is just to hone your skills to work your own, personal restoration project – you’re more than welcome to come! At Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 E Clear Lake Ave, Springfield, Illinois 62703 (an Illinois Audubon Society nature preserve).


Burn Crew Training1-5pm Saturday March 2 – Controlled burns are an important part of our stewardship work. If you’re interested in being on the burn crew, you may have some long exhausting days, but you’ll have a lot of fun, experience great teamwork, and get close to one of nature’s great phenomena. Plus you’ll really be helping us out. Come out to the training to see if burn crew is for you.

Call Vern at 525.1410 to register or for more information. Classroom and field session, so dress appropriately (long pants, long sleeves, sturdy boots, natural fibers). Hopefully you’ll be volunteering on our work days. But if this is just to hone your skills to work your own, personal restoration project – you’re more than welcome to come!


Mushroom Workshop1-3pm Saturday March 16 – We’ll show you how to grow your own oyster and shiitake mushrooms, and give you what you need to get started.

All previous sessions of this workshop have sold out. We’ve moved to a larger facility to accommodate more people, but you’ll need to act fast to reserve your spot. The workshop fee is $20 for members and $25 for non-members (membership information link). You will receive two logs and inoculated plugs for both types of mushrooms. You will learn how to harvest mushrooms from the logs, where to get spore, and how to start your own logs (one oyster, one shiitake). The oysters should fruit in fall/winter 2019 and the shiitakes in fall 2020.

Call Vern at 525.1410 to register. Pay in advance to reserve a spot. The workshop starts at 1pm, if you are not present by 1:10pm, we will give your spot to the first person on the waiting list with your payment used as a donation to our conservation work. Send payment to Friends of the Sangamon Valley, PO Box 13352, Springfield, IL 62791 or through Paypal.

To get to Nipper: From Springfield or Chatham, take E. Loami Rd. west to Lead Line Rd. Turn south (left) on Lead Line to Withers Rd. Turn west (right) on Withers. Go about a 1/2 mile until you see the entrance sign for the Sanctuary; parking lot on site. 9560 Withers Rd., Loami. Click here to get to the membership information page.


Tour of Gudmundson Property & Sangamon River Float11am-2pm Saturday April 13 –  This is a MEMBERS ONLY event (membership information link). Join us for a walking tour of the Sangamon River bluffs/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. Call Vern at 525.1410 to reserve a place on the float.

Thanks to all our members who make possible all our workdays, events, tours and other efforts to preserve and rehabilitate natural areas in the Springfield, Illinois region. See a list of our Places & Projects. Please join! Please volunteer! Thanks!


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.
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!
Ben Bedford in concert. Photo by Steve of Warmowski Photography
Sheedy Shores Winery at sunset. Photo by Steve of Warmowski Photography
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.
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!
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

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.