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posted: 7/2/2012 6:00 AM

Maine East's Ecology Club hosts tours of restoration project

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Submitted by District 207

The Maine East Ecology Club will host free tours highlighting its Oak Savanna restoration project from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, July 3, before the fireworks show. Ecology Club members will lead tours through the one-acre nature preserve at Dempster Street and Dee Road to show how they are bringing back a little slice of the historical Illinois landscape.

Tour leaders will walk the trail and introduce visitors to a Google map plant identification guide for easy use via cellphone or iPad. They also will introduce children to this enchanted habitat that is being restored for a wide variety of native Illinois and migratory animals.

The Ecology Club's goal is to renew this valuable resource for the benefit of students, staff, community and native critters. Members imagine a place to go and learn about poetry in English class, capture images in photo, count species in biology or analyze water quality in geology, environmental science or chemistry classes. Future plans include fundraising efforts in order to do restoration work and install a new fence, path, trail signs and deck with seating around the pond.

The group has completed the first step in a series of landscaping restoration makeovers. European buckthorn, the invasive shrub that has been plaguing Chicago-area forest preserves for decades, has been cut out of the nature preserve. The shrub was brought to the United States by early settlers but has become a relentless invasive plant affecting woodland areas in Northeastern Illinois by crowding out the native grasses, flowers and trees, hogging sunlight and competing for resources in the soil.

For about the last 25 years, students and staff have labored with cutting and prescribed burning to remove it each fall. But if not consistently and heavily managed, buckthorn can persist and dramatically affect biodiversity and aesthetic quality in an ecosystem. That is why the group is embarking on a major restoration effort.