Restoration project changing the landscape in Libertyville Township
There has been plenty of preparation of a farm field north of Casey Road in Libertyville Township this spring, but the work has had nothing to do with cash crops.
Instead, for the first time in memory, the field is out of agricultural production, with the intent of erasing its farming past and restoring the landscape of old.
Work on the 44-acre site is part of larger effort to restore eroded and degraded farm lands along Casey Road, a roughly two-mile corridor connecting Route 45 with Route 21.
"What we're trying to do is disable those drain tiles and restore it to what was natural at one point," said Damon Cederberg, open space field coordinator for the Libertyville Township Open Space District.
Drain tiles are clay pipes of varying diameters installed by farmers to help make their fields plantable. Over time, channels created by runoff washed topsoil downstream and over Casey Road, eventually impacting the quality of nearby Bull Creek.
"It looks flat, but it isn't," said Libertyville Township Supervisor Kathleen O'Connor.
The township has secured a grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to fund about half the $252,000 project.
In 1985, Libertyville Township established the first township open space district in Illinois and began buying property. Since then, more than 1,500 acres have been protected. The field being worked now is one of the original acquisitions and is part of Oak Openings, one of two district holdings given the state's highest protection status as Illinois Nature Preserves.
As part of the ongoing work there, about 5,500 linear feet of tile has been removed from the site. Using precise measurements, sections of rock, known as grade control structures, were installed at various points to slow the flow of water.
Mesh blankets also have been installed and annual oat grass planted on either side of the channel to hold soil in place for the main event: the planting of 10,000 native grass plugs.
Because they have deep root systems, the plugs will permanently anchor the soil and create a new habitat for animals and insects.
But because of the amount of work involved, the call has gone out to volunteers to help from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and June 29.
"The plugs will go into just the channels but it is still a very large area to cover and we will need all the volunteers we can get," Cederberg said.
"This time next year, it will really look like something," he added.
For details about volunteering and the project, visit http://www.libertyvilletownship.us/.