The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and DuPage County Stormwater Management soon will begin a large-scale restoration project at West Branch Forest Preserve in Bartlett to provide healthier habitat for native wildlife and improve the land's natural absorption and storage of stormwater.
Parking lots and trails at West Branch are expected to remain open during most of the work, which should continue through 2015.
This multiyear effort will enhance 350 acres at the preserve, including a 1-mile stretch of the West Branch of the DuPage River, 100 acres of wetlands, the 34-acre Klein Fen and numerous acres of prairies.
The work will reconstruct the riverbed, remove agricultural drain tiles, thin weedy trees and other invasive plants, and reintroduce native plant species.
"The work is really three projects in one -- first the river, then the wetlands, then the fen. In the end, all three will be able to function together as one healthy ecosystem," said Erik Neidy, the district's manager of the Office of Natural Resources.
The restoration of the fen may represent the project's most notable achievement. Fens are characterized by mineral-rich groundwater that supports specialized plant communities. Throughout the United States, fens are extremely rare. In Illinois, fewer than 250 acres of these wetlands remain.
"The work to save the fen will only be successful in the long term if the surrounding natural areas are also in good shape," Neidy said.
A number of sources will fund the project, including a grant of $799,000 from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and money from the City of Chicago O'Hare Modernization Program, which provides funds to create new wetlands to offset the loss of similar habitat during expansion of the airport.
Additional information on the project can be found on the West Branch: Klein Fen, River Restoration and Wetland Mitigation Project page on the district's website, dupageforest.org, under "Forest Preserve News" and "Plans and Projects."
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County owns and manages 25,000 acres of prairies, woodlands and wetlands. Each year more than 4 million visitors enjoy 60 forest preserves, 145 miles of trails, five education centers and scores of programs.
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