2020 Annual Meeting Report

We had a record turnout for our Annual Meeting at Nipper Sanctuary in Loami on February 1, 2020. 44 people came out and enjoyed six different chilis and soups, not to mention great home-made cup cakes. It was quite cold, but that didn’t stop peer pressure from getting a tour going.

Overall of Annual Meeting
Friends of the Sangamon Valley annual meeting at Nipper Wildlife Preserve in Loami.

The business meeting portion was short and predictable, nothing wrong with that. After taking nominations from the floor (there were none), several board members were re-elected to two-year terms. Welcome back Bob Barewin, Angi Davis, Charlene Falco, Peggy Goetsch, John Justice, George Sinclair, and Jim Struebing. Plus, Mike Kennedy, whose been lurking at our last several board meetings, has joined us for his first term.

Vern LaGesse gave his annual report. He introduced the board members and reminded folks that being on the board is a real way to make a difference and participate in the group. He remembered George Rose, the difference he made, and how we will miss him.

He recounted our workdays: 47 this year; with the Tuesday and Thursday days (the “retiree” workdays) being particularly popular. It’s how we get most of our work done and Vern emphatically said, “Our volunteers make FOSV what we are.” He said we can be proud of our stewardship effort; and that no one else is doing this at the same scale in our area. Our workdays have included many days at Audubon’s Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 5 days at the Wolf, 3 days at Gudmunson, 1 each at Knuppel, Robinson and Nipper, and 1 day at the Lael wetlands, along with a fire day. Vern called out Greg Feeny and Joel Johnson for special recognition on the massive amount of work they have devoted to the bike trails and the special landscaping flair Joel has brought to their efforts.

He talked about our work done in partnerships: with CWLP on their property, which is especially making a difference now that neighbors are understanding our goal. Working with the city’s Lake Services crew has helped productivity. They have a Bobcat with a rotary blade which works very quickly and takes care of the lower quality areas, so volunteers can spend time in higher quality areas, being more precise in which plants they remove. The Soil and Water Conservation District is another fruitful partnership.

We continue to offer training to volunteers, including workshops for chainsaw use, fire management, and herbicide application. We continue our mushroom growing workshop, making use of some of the wood we cut during our workdays.

The Sangamon River cleanup continues. We didn’t do the water cleanup this year due to a scare over blue green algae, so instead, we worked the shores with 20 volunteers. Vern remarked on the gradual attitude change among people who live next to the river and that we are gradually seeing less trash being thrown out in these areas.

Our Members-only tour of the Gudmundson property brought out a good size crowd in the spring to see this interesting tract on bluffs above the river. The sunset tours at Nipper have proven to be very popular and were well attended.

Vern thanked our tour leaders, Kevin Veara, Chris Young, and Joe Bartletti, during our newest annual event, Prairie Days, which generally happens the first Saturday in June at Nipper. The bird banding folks from Lincoln Land Community College have been a popular draw and they are learning quite a bit about Nipper with their annual efforts. Birds that they have banded two years ago have been recaptured in the same spots.

Ross Padgett, our intern is still with us, and we are pleased to have Krystle Adams with us, currently our part-time preserve manager, and being groomed as Vern’s replacement.

We have a growing Legacy program; several people have left us property in their estate, with some stipulating the time of restoration they would like to see, with the Nipper and Wolf projects serving as their inspiration. Vern dropped the big question: Can we keep the organization going long enough to receive these gifts and accomplish the restorations? Krystle and our strong volunteer network gives us hope.

Vern thanked the board members again, we broke for a lunch and a splendid time was had by all. See you next year, and hopefully soon- er!

Nipper winter tour
Vern LaGesse leads a wintery cold tour of Nipper during the Annual Meeting. Good thing the chili was hot. Photo by Steve Warmowski.

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!


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.

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.


Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 10.10.46 AM
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 WarmowskiPhotography.com

Ben Bedford Concert and Celebration of FoSV Volunteers

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.

Friends Launching Capital Campaign


The Friends of the Sangamon Valley has continued to grow over the past two decades. We now own 235 acres and help manage an additional 2,000 acres of natural areas. It’s a big job, and we aren’t getting any younger.

So to add a little muscle to our restoration efforts, the Friends of the Sangamon Valley is kicking off a capital campaign to raise $25,000 per year to hire one part time steward who will help maintain Friends properties and help complete work required by grants.

The Friends will continue to seek grants and other income to help us fund this position and we’ll keep you up to date on our progress. However, the goal will be much easier to attain with your help. You can read the letter from Friends Board President Bill Crook to our supporters here.

Please consider making a donation to our Stewardship Campaign to help us reach our goal of a sustainable stewardship program.

For your convenience, you can donate through PayPal.

Our Mission

The mission of the Friends of the Sangamon Valley is to preserve the natural heritage of the Sangamon River watershed by acquiring, restoring, and protecting ecologically significant lands. Many of the counties in the watershed do not have a local conservation district or other land trust organization dedicated to preserving land or restoring and maintaining natural areas. The Friends fills this niche.

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Initially formed as the Friends of Carpenter Park, the Friends of the Sangamon Valley has expanded its mission to encompass the broader watershed, including work in several counties.

Our focus is hands-on stewardship. We believe in the strength and ability of community volunteers to provide the best care and management of our local natural resources. Our volunteers participate in strategic planning, endangered species monitoring, exotic species control, controlled burns, and other ecological management activities. We also provide opportunities for workshops, tours, and just getting outside to appreciate some of the overlooked gems in Central Illinois.

Mailing Address:

PO Box 13352, Springfield, IL 62791.

Support the work of the Friends by donating through PayPal.