Nipper Water Quality Study Final Report Released

After a year and a half of data collection and another year or two of planning prior to that, the first phase of the Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary water quality study has been completed. Lochmueller Group produced a summary report discussing the data, what it might indicate, and provided recommendations for continuing the study.

Based on 2016 sampling by the Sangamon County Soil and Water Conservation District, which showed reduction in nitrate from the outlet to Lick Creek compared to the wetland by the nature center, we wanted to expand the study to see if the Nipper wetlands were preventing nutrients from neighboring agricultural lands getting into Lick Creek. This would have a positive effect on the water quality in the Lake Springfield watershed. So in 2018, the Nipper Foundation, with assistance from the Brandt Foundation and The Friends of the Sangamon Valley, embarked on a formal water quality study of run off from the agricultural fields, wetlands, and outflow from the wetlands to Lick Creek.

Nipper Water Quality Study Final Report

In our first 18 months, we’ve found that the outflow concentrations from the last wetland are substantially lower than the inputs coming in from the agricultural field, especially for suspended solids, nitrogen, and phosphorus. We don’t yet have enough data to do a detailed quantitative evaluation, but what we’ve seen thus far has provided enough impetus to continue the study for at least another two years and possibly longer. A qualitative evaluation indicates anywhere from a 50-70% reduction in levels of nitrate, total nitrogen, and phosphorus as water passes through the wetland cells. This information is very preliminary and will certainly be modified as additional information is gathered.

The summary report, written by the Lochmueller Group’s Joe Bartletti and Bryan Cross, makes recommendations for additional sampling and provides suggestions for tweaking the sampling plan we’ve been using. More data is needed to gain a better understanding of the hydrology, the role that groundwater plays in the wetlands, and overall water budget. Standardizing the conditions under which samples will be taken and when samples are collected should help increase the usability of the data and help in comparisons from year-to-year or season-to-season.

We’re also initiating a similar study of the constructed wetlands on Mary Lou Tyner-Lael’s property in rural Morgan County. Mary Lou’s restoration is a different age than Nipper’s, the topography is different, and there is an additional wetland cell. It will be interesting to see how Nipper and the Lael property differ.

Thanks very much to Northwater for developing the sampling plan and training, to Lochmueller Group for pulling the data together and providing a final report, to Vern LaGesse, Charlene Falco, Mike Kennedy, Nick Klobuchar, and Jeanne Handy for helping with sample collection and lab analysis, to PDC Labs for sample analysis, and not least to the Nipper Foundation and Brandt Foundation for funding and support.

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.

Workdays and Events for first half of 2020

Here’s a screenshot of Workdays and Events from our latest newsletter.  Like our Facebook page to get updates. Sign on to our email updates list to get info pushed to you. Become a member to get the newsletter mailed to you, and to support all our conservation and restoration efforts.

Donate on our Facebook page. Via PayPal. Via post.

Friends of the Sangamon Valley
PO Box 13352
Springfield, IL 62791
Individual $30, Family $45, and Student $20…

Maple Grove Resident Speaks the Truth

Maple Grove is a small residential area adjacent to Lake Springfield and is an area The Friends of the Sangamon Valley have been working for two years. Marie Havens is a long time resident of Maple Grove. She is also a member of the Native Plant Society. Friends staff, Krystle Adams, recently conducted this interview with Marie after one of our recent workdays.

Krystle: When did you first become interested in the Maple Grove workday?
Marie: I saw a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook and I thought to myself yeah I could do that. The combo of honeysuckle and Maple Grove was just too
irresistible to avoid…Once I knew about the work days I felt
duty bound.

Krystle: What are some of positive benefits of volunteering your time with FOSV?
Marie: Being useful and productive exercise. I hope that we can
help native plants grow throughout Maple Grove which will ultimately help out the wildlife; the area really seems to need more diversity of plants.

Krystle: Marie then let me know what it was like living in this area 20 years ago.
Marie: 20 years ago the only trails through the Maple Grove area were horse trails, once the honey suckle moved in you couldn’t walk through the woods at all. No one was clearing honeysuckle back then unless it started to grow in their back yards. So I can really see now how important the work is. I really wish someone was here, clearing it out 20 years ago when the problem started. I hate honeysuckle.

Krystle: We ended the interview talking about how thankful many of the Maple Grove residents are that FOSV are clearing out invasive species and making it easier for them to watch all the wildlife.
Marie is 75 years old and says, “You’re never too old to get out and help nature.”

Marie on the left, Krsytle on the right, at Maple Grove. Photo by Vern LaGesse.

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

A Tree for George

On October 23, 2019, the Springfield Park District honored Friends Board member, steward of the Washington Park nature trail and friend of nature, George Rose, with a white oak tree, planted just east of the smaller parking area for the tennis courts.

As many of you know, George passed away earlier this summer. George worked tirelessly on behalf of the Friends to restore the nature trail area in Washington Park, removing honeysuckle and other invasive species. He also helped create “no mow” areas in the park to al- low white oak seedlings to grow. His efforts inspired a group of dedicated volunteers that helped him out rain, shine, snow, or ice. We will miss George dearly, but Washington Park attests to his time here and with us, and we are grateful.

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