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.

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

Get Involved in Stewardship

One of the advantages to being a Friends volunteer is the opportunity to visit and help maintain a variety of natural areas – many on private property or with limited access.

There are opportunities for stewardship each month. Dates are listed below for planned workdays through the end of May. You don’t have to attend all of them, just choose the ones that fit your schedule.

Activities include cutting and removing invasive species, prepping for controlled burns, plant and insect inventories and more.

The most rewarding part is to return in a few months too see how the site has responded to management. We look forward to seeing you at a workday soon.


Every Tuesday:  10 a.m. – noon at Glenwood Woods

March 19: 10 a.m. – noon at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site

March 20: 1 – 3 p.m. Adams Wildlife Sanctuary


Every Tuesday:  10 a.m. – noon at Glenwood Woods

April 9: 1 – 3 p.m. at the Wolf Preserve

April 16: 1 – 3 p.m. at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site

April 17: 1 – 3 p.m. at the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary

April 23: 1 – 3 p.m. at Walden West

April 24: 1 – 3 at the Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary

April 30: Tour of Mary Lou Lael’s property


Every Tuesday:  10 a.m. – noon at Glenwood Woods

May 14: 1 – 3 p.m. at Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site

May 15: 1 – 3 p.m. at the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary

May 21: 1 – 3 p.m. at the Wolf Preserve

May 28: 1 – 3 p.m. at Walden West

May 29: 1 – 3 p.m. at the Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary surveying plants and insects

Places we work, and directions to each site:

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary: Join us at the Illinois Audubon Society’s sanctuary in Springfield. Meet in the sanctuary’s parking lot. Address: 2315 E Clear Lake Ave, Springfield, IL 62703.

Glenwood Woods: Join us for stewardship activities at this City Water Light and Power property on Lake Springfield every Tuesday morning. Meet at Lake Wood Drive, the first road east of Glenwood Middle School.

Nipper Wildlife Sanctuary: Join us at this prairie restoration outside Loami. From Springfield or Chatham, take E. Loami Road west to Lead Line Road. Turn south (left) on Lead Line to Withers Road. Turn West (right) on Withers. Go about one-half mile until you see the signs for the sanctuary. Meet in the parking lot at 9560 Withers Road.

Walden West: Join us at this privately-owned natural area near Manito. Meet at the Hardees at Walnut and Jefferson Streets in Springfield one hour before the time listed above.

Washington Park: Join George Rose in controlling exotic species in Springfield’s Washington Park. George will schedule workdays throughout the season when he is available. Call George at 787-1940 if you are interested.

Wolf Preserve: Join us for stewardship activities at our preserve near Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site. Meet at the Hardees at Walnut and Jefferson Streets in Springfield one half-hour before the time listed above.

Unless noted otherwise, call Vern LaGesse at (217) 525-1410 for more information. Workdays usually last about two hours and often include a tour. Work gloves and boots are recommended for all work days. All other equipment is provided.

Prescribed burns are weather-dependent and are NOT scheduled in advance. Call Vern to be included on his e-mail list of volunteers interested in helping burn. Due to weather conditions, there may be only a day’s notice prior to a burn being conducted. See our Stewardship page for more information.


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.