'Definitely a sense of excitement': Libertyville High students' Butler Lake plans take shape

After months of planning, an initiative by a group of Libertyville High School students to restore a portion of the Butler Lake shoreline has shown dramatic results.

In four hours Saturday, a crew from ILM Environments using special equipment cleared about 10,000 square feet of buckthorn, honeysuckle and other invasive species from about a 500-foot-long stretch between a walking path and the shoreline on the school campus.

Almost immediately, this first step in a long-term process to transform the southern shoreline of Butler Lake drew attention at the school and around town.

The shoreline targeted by Libertyville High School largely is owned by the village, with a small portion on school property.

The village gave permission to remove the invasive species and intends to coordinate with the school further as the project advances.

"There is definitely a sense of excitement building about the shoreline project at LHS," said Jennifer Kahn, a science teacher and adviser to the ECOS Club, which is leading the initiative. "I had a steady stream of students and staff (Monday) morning coming into my room to tell me how good the shoreline looks."

The goal is to protect the area from further erosion, reduce flooding and improve the habitat for birds and wildlife by replacing invasive species and scrub vegetation with about 3,000 sedges, rushes, grasses and flowering native plants.

The project will be an attraction in its own right and is regarded by club members as a way to educate the community.

"On top of that, it will leave a visual impact," says Atalhea Herman, an LHS junior and ECOS Club co-president. "We would like to use that display to attract homeowners to the idea of using more native plants in their own landscaping."

Plantings in the plan design were selected for ease of care, tendency not to aggressively spread and importance to birds and beneficial pollinators, Kahn said.

A majority of the plants -- butterfly milkweed, cardinal flower and great blue lobelia, for example - will be planted by students and community partners this fall. Hundreds of plants will be grown from seeds in Kahn's classroom.

She said she expanded her knowledge while working with her daughter, Talia, on a yearlong bat mitzvah service project volunteering at Lake County forest preserves.

That included several restoration events where Kahn said she asked questions and networked, setting the stage for suggesting the Butler Lake shoreline restoration as a possible club project.

"We found something that a core group of 15 kids (in the ECOS Club) can work on and have a significant role," Kahn said. "Nearly everyone had indicated an interest in Butler Lake."

Using the iNaturalist app, club members identified plant species along the shoreline and created a planting plan. Drops of as much as 3 feet to the water near the walking path were found and control measures researched.

A comprehensive, long-term plan was formulated with the assistance of many entities. ILM Environments, for example, donated a workday to provide the blank canvas and spoke to students.

Illinois Green Schools, Sand County Foundation, Jane Goodall Institute and Lake County Stormwater Management Association provided grants to help purchase supplies, including more than 1,000 native plant plugs.

Kahn estimated the cost of the project at $15,000 including the value of donated goods and services. About $10,000 in grants and donations have been received so far. Donations are being accepted at

Students will plant seed and weed and water the plants the first few years. Once established, the plants will need little maintenance and practically no watering.

"People who walk on the path will be able to watch the area come to life," Herman said.

"In the next few years, that area will reflect the original beauty of Illinois and aid the native wildlife that has managed to survive."

Ryan Rickerson, director of field operations for ILM Environments, talks to Libertyville High School students about erosion and invasive plants on the southern shoreline of Butler Lake. Courtesy of Libertyville High School ECOS Club
Some examples of invasive species found on the south end of Butler Lake near Libertyville High School. The school's ECOS sustainability club plans to restore a portion of the shoreline with native plants. Courtesy of Libertyville High School ECOS Club
This map shows invasive species along the south shore of Butler Lake. The ECOS club at Libertyville High School is leading a project to restore a portion of the shoreline. Courtesy of Libertyville High School ECOS Club
This is Butler Lake near Libertyville High School. The school's ECOS Club is leading a project to replace invasive species on a portion of the shoreline with native plants. Courtesy of Libertyville High School ECOS Club
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