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A honeybee explores the flower of jewelweed in the woods of the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary. Photos by Chris Young.

Adams Wildlife Sanctuary makes a comeback

August 23, 2013 at 08:41 AM

The State Journal-Register

Like cleaning out the house, things often look worse before they look better.

And so it was with the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, 2315 Clear Lake Ave., as it began a multi-year restoration in 2009.

Grinding machines reduced hundreds of Siberian elms and other weedy trees to mulch. Winter creeper, an evergreen ground cover, had taken over the forest floor and had to be sprayed with herbicide, leaving the woods looking barren and brown.

Invasive bush honeysuckle was cut and stacked in brush piles.

The site looked like it was under attack.

It is a familiar story in Illinois woodlands. Invasive plants from all over the world now take root and grow — crowding out native species and destroying the forest’s character.

The only solution is a radical one.

After more than four years of work — much of it backbreaking manual labor performed by dedicated volunteers — the forest is again home to a diversity of grasses and wildflowers.

The prairies and wetlands on the north end of the property bloom yellow, and big bluestem grass grows at least 10 feet tall.
The woods are home to 50 species of plants now, instead of just a handful four years ago.

Jewelweed, bottlebrush grass, American bellflower and wild golden glow are among the wildflowers found this summer.

“We are slowly but surely addressing the problem of invasive species at this sanctuary,” said Tom Clay, executive director of Illinois Audubon. “So many plants growing here weren’t in North America 100 years ago, but today they are prolific.”

Clay said the site was not addressed all at once, but instead divided into sections.

“We are doing it methodically,” he said. “We are not going into the 40 acres in one swoop trying to remove everything that doesn’t belong.”

Illinois Audubon is partnering with Friends of the Sangamon Valley to create a variety of native Illinois habitats on the property, including woodlands, prairies and wetlands.

Funding to get the project started was provided through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Landowner Incentive Program.

Since then, Mike Kennedy has taken the lead, volunteering countless hours to remove bush honeysuckle and other invading plants.

“So in the future, when people come here they can see the various habitat types,” Clay said. “And we’re seeing great results.”

‘It’s just so different’

The woods before and after invasive winter creeper was sprayed with herbicide.

Getting that far can be a hard sell, especially when the public sees the radical surgery in progress.

“Some of the neighbors and other members of the Society were concerned about the look of the restoration,” said Vern LaGesse, executive director of the Friends.

But as the rejuvenation of the site has picked up speed, the look of the sanctuary has continued to change rapidly this summer.

LaGesse leads a monthly botany club meeting at the site, and he said in a few short weeks, the jewelweed has taken off.
“We were here a month ago and the jewelweed was just starting,” he said. “It wasn’t a carpet like it is now. The botany club just couldn’t get over it. It’s just so different.”

“It just looks amazing,” Clay said. “In the parts of the timber where we have done timber stand improvement, we are seeing native plants that have been here and their seeds have been sleeping for quite some time.

“They are suddenly waking up and they are receiving some sun on the forest floor,” he said. “We are certainly seeing the fruits of our labor.”

A long history

The family farm and fruit orchard tended by Margery Adams parents in the early 1900s has come a long way.

The site originally was a prairie before settlers arrived in Sangamon County and started to farm.

Margery’s grandfather bought the farmhouse and surrounding land in 1869.

She was born in 1897.

After Margery’s parents died, Margery let the farm revert to a natural state. She spent her time teaching Sunday school and feeding wildlife on her property.

When she died in 1983, she left the house and acreage to the Illinois Audubon Society, and the 30-acre property became the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary.

Margery Adams

“This is a unique situation for a timber,” said Vern LaGesse, executive director of Friends of the Sangamon Valley. “The forest here today is the result of what is left from their orchard.

“It is incredible, the things that are finding their way to this woodland.”

Illinois Audubon restored the original four-room farmhouse, built in the 1850s, and added on additional space to serve as its state headquarters.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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