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posted: 8/19/2014 3:37 PM

Learn about the native landscape settlers found in McHenry County

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  • Learn about "Natural Heritage: Discovering the Native Landscape" with the McHenry County Historical Society's "Summer Sunday Series" on Aug. 24.

    Learn about "Natural Heritage: Discovering the Native Landscape" with the McHenry County Historical Society's "Summer Sunday Series" on Aug. 24.

Submitted by McHenry County Historical Society

The McHenry County Historical Society offers its "Summer Sunday Series: Natural Heritage: Discovering the Native Landscape" at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, at the museum, 6422 Main St., Union.

Greg Rajsky of True Nature Consulting talks about the relationships between the early settlers and the land. What were the predominant land forms and plant communities encountered by the pioneers as they arrived in McHenry County? How were some of the plants used? What remnant populations of native plants remain today? An optional field trip to the nearby Pleasant Valley Conservation Area in Woodstock will follow. Those who wish to go should dress appropriately, including long pants and comfortable shoes. The program is free with museum admission.

By now, you may have read stories about the threatened Monarch butterfly. The Woodstock naturalist has seen the evidence firsthand this summer: While milkweed and adult butterflies can be seen in McHenry County's prairies, he has seen just one Monarch caterpillar.

The causes are many and varied. There is the threat of climate change and the impact of genetically modified crops on pollinating insects, but there also is a loss of habitat to worry about. While the public will rally to preserve a historic building like the old courthouse in Woodstock, many folks will not bat an eye when a scenic vista or a centuries-old forest is lost to development. There is a feeling that there is more where that came from.

Except when there isn't.

An oak grove behind the former Harmony School, at Route 20 and Harmony Road in Coral Township, continues to be under threat -- despite its designation by the county as a Heritage Grove site. The largest bur oak on the property, which includes a historic 1931 school the historical society is working to save from demolition, is 245 years old.

"You have to look for early warning signs when managing natural areas," Rajsky said. "It takes monitoring and conducting surveillance on the ground to make sure that suddenly you are not too late. Blink and you can miss your opportunity. Vigilance is important."

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, at the McHenry County Historical Society Museum in Union, Rajsky will talk about the history of the land we now call home -- the relationships between early settlers and plant communities they encountered. What remnant populations of native plants remain today? What can we do to preserve them for future generations?

"I hope they leave (the program) with a deeper appreciation for the character of the landscape as it existed at the time of settlement," Rajsky said, "and why early settlers were inclined to wax poetic about land. ... We forget that right in our own backyard there is tremendous beauty, if we just open our eyes and get outside."

Rajsky, an avid field botanist, established True Nature Consulting in 2013 to help landowners and others to better understand natural areas -- their functions and composition, history and inhabitants. He has been engaged in ecological restoration since 1990 and is a certified naturalist through the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Originally from Westmont in DuPage County, Rajsky moved to McHenry County in 1997 and picked up where he left off. In 1998 he earned the President's Award from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and he received conservation leadership awards from the Chicago Wilderness Habitat Project.

Locally, The Land Conservancy of McHenry County presented him with its Living with Trees Award in 2010 for his efforts to preserve oaks and their native habitat in the county. His work includes serving as steward of the Lone Oak Fen in Lake in the Hills and with Project Quercus -- which helps conserve oak woodlands.

It was through his work with TLC's Oak Keepers Project, that Rajsky saw the need for consulting organization to help landowners better manage native and nonnative plants. True Nature was an opportunity to put his 20 years habitat enhancement and land management experience to work.

"I look at history as our benchmark and our reference point from which to try and assemble a new and healthy functional system," Rajsky said of his environmental restoration efforts. "Whether it's seeping into the general public conscience or not is hard to tell."

Museum admission for nonmembers is $5, $3 for seniors, ages 60 and older, or students, and a family rate which includes two adults and 2 or more children for $12. Visit