Six large-scale forest preserve restoration projects are protecting water in Lake County

  • Removal of dams at Wright Woods, MacArthur Woods and Ryerson Woods has improved the aquatic habitat along the Des Plaines River.

    Removal of dams at Wright Woods, MacArthur Woods and Ryerson Woods has improved the aquatic habitat along the Des Plaines River. Courtesy of Jeff Goldberg

 
 
Posted6/24/2021 6:00 AM

Surveys show water is one of the most important natural resources to Lake County residents. Water means several things: rainwater; access to clean, safe drinking water; and ponds, lakes and rivers for recreation.

But one that may not come immediately to mind is the floodwater mitigation provided by thousands of acres of high-quality natural areas managed by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

 

Water is a key focus of the agency's Road Map to 2025 Strategic Plan to steward healthy landscapes and restore ecological habitats.

"We collaborate with other agencies on projects that enhance the quality of our rivers, streams and lakes and help us restore the natural water cycle, increase water infiltration and absorption, and protect wildlife and native plant communities," Director of Natural Resources Jim Anderson said.

Des Plaines River

• Project: Dams at Wright Woods and MacArthur Woods forest preserves, both in Mettawa, were removed in 2016. A third dam at Ryerson Woods in Riverwoods was taken out in 2010. The dams, circa 1930s, prevented the passage of some fish species and trapped sand and gravel.

• Why it's important: Since the removal of almost all the dams on the river in Lake County, forest preserve ecologists are seeing fish species never before documented in this section of river, such as longnose gar and smallmouth buffalo. The ranges of other species are expanding upstream.

• Biggest benefits: Improved water quality and aquatic habitat, and reduced flooding.

• Partners: Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Office of Water Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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• Total cost: $1.15 million; LCFPD share: $397,000

Lakewood Forest Preserve, Wauconda

Upland and wetland restoration created wetland pockets and restored the soil in Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda, home to more than 24 threatened and endangered species.
Upland and wetland restoration created wetland pockets and restored the soil in Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda, home to more than 24 threatened and endangered species. - Courtesy of Jeff Goldberg

• Project: Large-scale upland and wetland restoration was done in 2018 and 2019 in the northeast corner of the preserve. Drain tiles were removed from former farm fields to create wetland pockets and restore the rich soil in the surrounding habitat.

• Why it's important: Home to more than 24 threatened and endangered species, the collection of wetlands include: Wauconda Bog, ecologically valuable; Broberg Marsh, one of the area's best breeding spots for wetland birds; and Schreiber Lake Bog, known for several rare plants.

• Biggest benefits: Increased water infiltration, water absorption, improved water quality and significant habitat improvement.

• Partners: Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, Openlands, private donor

• Total cost: $2.1 million; LCFPD share: $1 million

Pine Dunes Forest Preserve, Antioch

Projects at Pine Dunes Forest Preserve in Antioch in 2014 and 2015 were intended to mitigate the impacts from construction of the O'Hare International Airport Western Access Project, and have provided nesting and foraging habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Projects at Pine Dunes Forest Preserve in Antioch in 2014 and 2015 were intended to mitigate the impacts from construction of the O'Hare International Airport Western Access Project, and have provided nesting and foraging habitat for birds and other wildlife. - Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Project: A collaboration with the Illinois Tollway Authority for the mitigation of impacts from construction of the O'Hare International Airport Western Access Project. The Illinois Tollway Authority mitigated 80 acres of wetland and restored 235 acres of adjacent savanna and prairie habitat in 2014 and 2015.

• Why it's important: This area provides critical nesting and foraging habitat for birds and other wildlife, according to the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan. Trumpeter swans and bitterns have nested here in the years following restoration efforts.

• Biggest benefits: Significant habitat improvement, increased water infiltration, flood reduction and improved water quality.

• Partners: Illinois Tollway Authority, Illinois Natural History Survey, USACE

• Total cost: $10.6 million; LCFPD share: $75,000

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, Lake Forest

Coastline restoration in Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest was completed in 2020 with the installation of underwater living reefs along 1.5 miles of lakeshore.
Coastline restoration in Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake Forest was completed in 2020 with the installation of underwater living reefs along 1.5 miles of lakeshore. - Courtesy of Mike Borkowski

• Project: Over the last 10 years, work to restore scenic ravines, lake bluff and Lake Michigan coastline was completed. Underwater living reefs were installed in 2020 along 1.5 miles of lakeshore, which was the final phase of the project.

• Why it's important: Fort Sheridan is home to many rare plant and animal species. It's located in the Lake Michigan Flyway, one of North America's busiest flyways for migratory birds.

• Biggest benefits: Improved water quality, reduced sediment, protected and enhanced ravine streams and their connection to Lake Michigan. The reefs provide submerged habitat for fish and aquatic wildlife.

• Partners: Alliance of the Great Lakes, Lake Forest Open Lands Association, USACE

• Total cost: $8.5 million: LCFPD share: $2.6 million

Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve, Antioch

Ecologists transformed an impaired lake into a healthy stream over the course of 12 years at Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve in Antioch.
Ecologists transformed an impaired lake into a healthy stream over the course of 12 years at Ethel's Woods Forest Preserve in Antioch. - Courtesy of Leslie Berns

• Project: Ecologists transformed an impaired lake into a healthy stream. They slowly drained a 58-acre lake and removed a 600-foot-long earthen dam, a barrier to nature's cleansing. The 12-year project began in 2007.

• Why it's important: Returning North Mill Creek to a twisty stream channel from an unhealthy, human-made lake is the largest, most complex land and water management project tackled by the Lake County Forest Preserves to date. It led to an additional 700-acre restoration effort upstream in the North Mill Creek watershed near Dutch Gap Forest Preserve, also in Antioch.

• Biggest benefits: Improved water quality, aquatic habitat and flood storage.

• Partners: Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey

• Total cost: $4.5 million: LCFPD share: $3 million

Rollins Savanna, Grayslake

A sandhill crane at Rollins Savanna in Grayslake, considered an "Important Bird Area" by the National Audubon Society.
A sandhill crane at Rollins Savanna in Grayslake, considered an "Important Bird Area" by the National Audubon Society. - Courtesy of Phil Hauck

• Project: More than 450 acres of former farmland were restored in 2003 and 2004. Drain tiles, put in place by farmers to lower the water table, were removed to let water move naturally, re-forming wetlands and flowing streams.

• Why it's important: The National Audubon Society considers Rollins Savanna an "Important Bird Area." Northern harriers and short-eared owls, two bird species that require large, open grasslands for foraging and nesting, are signs of success.

• Biggest benefits: Significant habitat improvement, increased water infiltration, flood reduction and improved water quality.

• Partners: Ducks Unlimited, IDNR, INPC, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Conservation Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

• Total cost: $1.56 million; LCFPD share: $910,000

• • •

Floodwater mitigation in Lake County

• 34% of forest preserve land is in a floodplain

• 1 acre of restored wetland can hold 330,000 gallons of stormwater

• 1 acre of restored prairie can absorb 9 inches of rainfall and intercept 53 tons of water during a 1-inch/hour rainstorm.

• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.

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