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Illinois hunting and fishing

Pekin park district eyes reserve status for Independence Park

January 28, 2012 at 04:33 PM

The Pekin Times

PEKIN, Ill. — For many years prior to the late 1970s, massive Caterpillar tractors rolled through the old Caterpillar test site off Illinois Route 29 in unincorporated Creve Coeur.

The soil there was shuffled from place to place as the earth movers were put through their paces. The land was barren of foliage in many areas until Caterpillar deeded the property to the Forest Park Foundation in the late 1970s. The Pekin Park District agreed to take the property from the Forest Park Foundation a short time later to use for recreational purposes.

The land has recovered, to a degree — most of the 300 acres there are now covered with trees and lush meadows, and it’s home to about 15 species of animals, 80 species of birds and a wide variety of plant life. The land is home to deer, coyote, muskrat, fox and beaver, as well as other wildlife.

The Pekin Park District wants to make sure it stays that way.

Pekin Park District Director Bob Blackwell unveiled plans Thursday at the Park Board meeting to make the area, known as Independence Park, a land and water reserve through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. Talks have been ongoing for four years with IDNR to make the designation, which would be permanent.

Independence Park is bordered by Illinois Route 29 on the west, Interstate 474 on the north and LaSalle Boulevard on the south.

The IDNR Nature Preserve Commission will hear the proposal in the spring.

“As more and more property around the state disappears to development, it is important that these properties are protected,” said Blackwell.

Blackwell said a meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Pekin Park District Administration Building to get public input on the proposed agreement.

There is no cost to the park district associated with the designation.

This is not the first time the park district has placed some of its property in reserve status. In 2003, approximately 800 acres of McNaughton Park and Dirksen Park were designated as land and water reserves. State grants were available at that time to help the park district with reforestation projects there. Those grants will not likely be available for Independence Park, said Blackwell.

IDNR has two programs to keep woodland areas safe from development — preserves and reserves. In a preserve, an area is off-limits to any human entry. In a reserve, the land can be used for recreational purposes such as hiking and bicycling.

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