An effort in Hawthorn Woods to provide a habitat for migrating monarch butterflies led to the revelation of a hidden natural area that soon will be shared with the public.
"I tell people, 'You've got to feel this,'" Pam Newton, the village's chief operating officer, said of the long undisturbed property donated to the community decades ago. "We want everybody to experience this."
The 11.5-acre Brierwoods Preserve will be dedicated Friday. It features an overlook of a forgotten wetland, a walking trail, a variety of trees, a butterfly habitat and other features near the Acorn Acres subdivision east of Route 12.
Uncovering the area was 40 years in the making. A dseveloper in the late 1970s donated 8.13 acres intended as one of the first of three parks to be created by the then-new village parks and recreation board.
About seven of those acres is a wetland, described at the time as a slough (swamp), with the rest wooded. The village later bought an adjoining 3.75 acres.
"The only thing developed in 1979 was a small neighborhood park," Newton said. The rest of the property remained untouched, inaccessible and largely forgotten.
That changed this spring when the village received a $20,000 grant from the CN EcoConnexions From the Ground Up program to establish an environment for monarchs to feed and reproduce. It includes plants that produce nectar for food as well as milkweed, where monarchs lay their eggs.
The property near the CN tracks and adjacent to woodland and wetlands creates "a perfect oasis for migratory wildlife," according to the grant application. The village matched the grant with a $30,000 cash and in-kind contribution that included 90 trees of several varieties, such as chokecherry and eastern redbud as well as hundreds of shrubs and ground cover.
The "Wish You Were Here ... a Migratory Monarch Project" was developed in partnership with America in Bloom, a Columbus, Ohio-based "community building" organization that manages the grant program for the Canadian National Railway. It is the village's first non-recreational land development project, Newton said.
The bonus of what lies beyond the tree line and beneath the buckthorn and other invasive growth was uncovered when village parks and recreation staff members began clearing a trail along an old deer path.
"What we found was a treasure of natural resources," said Newton, a former Lake County Board member and forest preserve commissioner. "This property was like the land that time forgot. When we opened it up we found something that rivaled a forest preserve site."
Newton estimated the area hasn't seen human activity for 75 years or more.
The dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday will include a variety of local and other public officials as well as students. Visitors to the event at 28 Bruce Circle North in Acorn Acres will get a bag of seed mix, some to spread and some to take home.
"Finding this resource was a tremendous surprise," Newton said. "We'd like to create the next generation of nature enthusiasts."