Popular Lake County program that assesses landscaping now offered for free
A popular program that helps Lake County property owners assess and implement conservation measures is being offered at no cost.
Conservation@Home carried a $50 fee and has been well-received, with about 1,300 individuals and others in Lake County using the service since it was introduced seven years ago.
But with the Jan. 1 merger of Conserve Lake County and the multistate Openlands organization and its available grant funding, it is available at no cost.
"We're catching up on the appointment requests we had because we had so many," said Sarah Surroz, director of Lake County programs for Openlands and former executive director of Conserve Lake County.
"We're continuing in a robust way with the program, and the merger allows that -- it provides more horsepower," she added.
The program allows property owners, including individuals, businesses or municipalities, to schedule an appointment to walk their property with a professional ecologist from Openlands.
Surroz said participants can gain a deeper understanding and connection with their landscape and learn how to manage their properties to better the environment.
"Even one property, depending on where it is or what is going on, can make a big difference for a (given) species," she said.
Openlands was established in 1963 to protect natural areas and open spaces in southeastern Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. It has identified Lake County as one of four priority landscapes, Surroz said, and continues to invest.
An example is the buy-in from the village of Riverwoods, a local company and individuals for an area encompassing an 874-acre area east and south of the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area.
"We've been providing Conservation@Home throughout the county for seven years now, but we wanted to really focus our work in areas we thought we could get the critical mass (of participation) and provide support in an ecologically important area," Surroz said.
Through a variety of resources and partners, including the Conservation@Home program, 25 percent of the property owners have had consultations and 80 percent of those have done "at least one documented meaningful activity," such as removing buckthorn or installing native plants, she said.
"It's starting to become the norm and people are talking among themselves about these new procedures and actions," she said.