Are native plants along Libertyville lagoon too much of a good thing?

  • Native plants installed as part of a long-sought restoration at Butler Lake in Libertyville obscure a lagoon at Butler Lake Park north of Lake Street.

      Native plants installed as part of a long-sought restoration at Butler Lake in Libertyville obscure a lagoon at Butler Lake Park north of Lake Street. Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff

 
 

As a nature lover, longtime Libertyville resident Valerie Carlson was thrilled when native plants began emerging on the shore of a lagoon in Butler Lake Park, just beyond her backyard.

But as time passed, the plantings became quite robust, filling in the shore line and stretching to towering heights.

Nature's spurt has begun to obstruct the view, she said, not just for her but for other park visitors and those who pass on Lake Street.

A lone voice with an admitted personal interest, Carlson has asked the village if anything can be done.

"I thought it was a wonderful jewel in the middle of Libertyville, but it's disappearing," she said in a recent plea to the village board.

She presented each board member with a folder filled with several photos and well-crafted editorial comments. An enclosed letter noted the lagoon and the shoreline look overgrown, untidy and unkempt, as some of the native plants intended to prevent erosion are 9 feet tall.

"Does it have to look like this?" she wrote.

Whether changing the landscape is desirable or even possible is to be determined.

The village for years pursued federal assistance for the dredging and restoration of Butler Lake. The $3.5 million project, focused primarily on the main lake south of Lake Street.

The ecosystem restoration included the lagoon area to the north, which encircles an island where the village band shell sits. Well-used athletic fields are a bit farther north, and the lagoon is flanked by a path.

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The results were impressive enough that the village received the 2009 Conservation and Native Landscaping Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Chicago Wilderness.

In a sense, Carlson is arguing the plantings represent too much of a good thing. Perhaps it's her English heritage, Carlson said, but she prefers a more orderly and controlled landscape.

Towering weeping willows and other trees border the lagoon, but the banks used to be mostly well-tended grass and shrubs providing a panoramic view from all angles. The growth spurt has changed that, she said.

"People who drop their kids off for baseball and football sometimes have no idea there's any water here," she said. "Believe me, a lot of people love it - the way it is. But it's not a forest. It's a park."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There was no public discussion among village trustees, but two of them approached Carlson after the meeting and a third later called.

"I will be researching whether or not there's any latitude or anything we can do about opening up some area or removing some of the materials," Village Administrator Kevin Bowens said.

The federal government contributed 65 percent or more than $2.2 million to the project, under an agreement between the village and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The village's portion was about $1.2 million in land for easements, cash and in-kind work.

The village now is responsible for maintaining the landscape, but Bowens was uncertain whether it could be mowed, for example.

"It's not just wildflowers. It's native prairie plants and wildflowers," he said. "Some people think it looks nice - the natural look. Others don't."

The matter has been referred to the village board's parks and recreation committee for further discussion.

Carlson admits to having a vested interest, as she has taken nearly daily walks around the lagoon in the 32 years she has lived in her home.

So, she has said her piece and is hoping for the best.

"It's one of those things," she said. "If you don't get up and say something, nothing will get done is my thought."