How deal could speed open-space restoration in three counties
You may have visited forest preserves in southwestern Lake County, northwestern Cook County or a conservation area in southeast McHenry County for a calming respite from the din of daily life.
Cuba Marsh, Spring Lake and Silver Creek in those respective geographic areas, for example, provide different experiences and getaway opportunities.
What you may not know is those and other protected areas in the region all are pieces of a much larger whole known as the Barrington Greenway Initiative.
Now seven agencies, including the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Lake County Forest Preserve District and McHenry County Conservation District, are working on an agreement to speed up restoration of more than 14,000 acres of prairies, oak savannas, wetlands and woodlands that comprise the Greenway.
"The synergy of these relationships produces a whole greater than the sum of its parts, combining what each kind of organization does best for a shared outcome," said Ed Collins, director of land preservation and natural resources for the McHenry County Conservation District.
Possibilities of creating such a system have been considered for decades by Citizens for Conservation, a Barrington-based volunteer organization that works to preserve open areas and restore them to the way they were when settlers arrived.
The organization has been chipping away at that goal since it was incorporated in 1971. It now owns 476 acres in 12 locations.
At its core was the late Waid Vanderpoel, an active member and past president of organization, and his son, Tom, who served as restoration director and tireless volunteer for 40 years until his death in 2017.
It was in 2017 that the Barrington Greenway Initiative was officially organized.
The area encompasses the Spring Creek and Flint Creek watersheds of the Fox River and stretches roughly from Island Lake to South Barrington and from Algonquin to Deer Park.
The Vanderpoels' idea was to create unbroken, interconnected corridors where native plants and wildlife could be reintroduced, resulting in benefits such as reduced flooding and cleaner air and water.
Seven public agencies and nonprofit organizations have been collaborating on various aspects of those goals. The pending agreement between them formalizes that partnership and expands the breadth and speed at which work gets done.
The McHenry Conservation District already has signed the deal and the Lake County Forest Preserve District is expected to do so Tuesday.
Citizens for Conservation, Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Friends of the Forest Preserves, Bobolink Foundation and Audubon Great Lakes are the other pending signees.
Working together allows the agencies to deliver larger regional benefits, according to those involved.
"Basically, it's recreating the landscape of what once was out here," explained Kevin Scheiwiller, restoration ecologist for Citizens for Conservation.
"We realized pretty quickly on to have palpable change we have to do restoration on a large level," he added.
"We're hoping through this agreement we can do a much larger scale approach."
While the goals are shared, the parties that own, manage, research or volunteer within the Greenway also are faced with common threats, such as physical barriers to migration and movement of fish and wildlife.
The pending agreement formalizes how the area is protected and managed and outlines standards on how the parties work on each other's land in areas such as fire management or invasive plant removal.
"The interesting thing here is nature doesn't care about political boundaries," said Benjamin Cox, executive director of Friends of the Forest Preserve, an independent nonprofit organization focused on the forest preserves in Cook County.
The agreement also will allow parties to apply jointly for outside funding.
"It codifies that everybody is working toward the same thing," said Jim Anderson, director of natural resources for the Lake County Forest Preserve District. "It sort of spells out the ground rules of how were going to work together."
The agreement formalizes required certifications for activities such as herbicide application, prescribed burns or volunteer leadership, for example.
"All groups have committed to meet or exceed the standards and practices within the agreement," said Patty Barten, outreach director for Citizens for Conservation. That means the requirements of each respective group are met and duplication is avoided, she added.
There also is an intangible benefit.
"What's really cool is it's a legacy of the Vanderpoel family," Scheiwiller said.