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Illinois hunting and fishing

Friends of the Sangamon Valley executive director Vern LaGesse (left) and board member Bill Crook look over a map of Robinson Woods. Photos by Chris Young.

Robinson Woods donated to Friends of the Sangamon Valley

January 07, 2012 at 06:42 PM

The State Journal-Register

Tucked away and out of sight just off a busy Springfield thoroughfare sits a small parcel of woods featuring old-growth trees and rich history.

The Friends of the Sangamon Valley, a local land trust and conservation organization, recently received the land as a donation from longtime board member Sally Robinson.

The five- to six-acre parcel is just off Lawrence Avenue, less than a quarter-mile from Chatham Road and across from Pasfield Park Golf Course.

The site once was home to a sandstone quarry that produced stone for buildings in Springfield’s earliest days.

White oak trees estimated to be 200 to 300 years old dot the uplands, and bur oak, sycamore and cottonwoods are found in the floodplain.


Illinois hunting and fishing
Vern LaGesse of Friends of the Sangamon Valley with a mature white oak tree in Robinson Woods.

Deer and turkeys roam the woods that are adjacent to Jacksonville Branch, an urban stream that flows from Veterans Parkway through Washington Park and on to Spring Creek.

“The Jacksonville Branch is probably our most important urban corridor,” said Friends executive director Vern LaGesse. “It covers half of the town from the mall all the way down into Spring Creek.

“I didn’t realize how important it was, but these corridors and little parcels of timber are why we still see urban wildlife here,” he said. “When you start extending our work at Washington Park outward, this makes total sense for us.”

The Friends of the Sangamon Valley already owned the Wolf Preserve and Knuppel Wildlife Sanctuary in Menard County and Boyle Woods in Cass County. The organization also provides stewardship assistance at Washington Park, the Adams Wildlife Sanctuary, Glenwood Woods, Revis Hill Prairie and Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site.

Now, the Friends are making plans to restore Robinson Woods by removing non-native species and allowing new trees to sprout and take root.

“I think we are at the right time that we can set the stage for a release of oaks, naturally occurring,” LaGesse said, adding that it is important to jumpstart the natural cycle of young oaks to replace the old-growth trees reaching the end of their life cycle.

“It is a critical time that we got here,” he said.

On Wednesday, LaGesse and Friends board member Bill Crook toured the site, identifying trees and discussing the best way to proceed with restoration.

“There is a nice upland and floodplain component with bur oak and sycamore,” LaGesse said. “The trees are all here. In an urban setting, we think it will be important to show how nice a woods could be.”

“It’s about as good as you are going to find in Springfield,” Crook said.

Robinson previouslly protected the parcel of land by entering into conservation easements held by the Natural Land Institute in Rockford.

The easements restrict development rights.

“We’re not in the development phase—unless we can get woodpeckers to pay us,” LaGesse said with a laugh.

***

Robinson Woods history

Sally Robinson, longtime board member of the Friends of the Sangamon Valley, wrote down her recollections of growing up in Robinson Woods and a history of the area.

“The Robinson property was once part of the McLean farm,” she said. “Two McLean brothers and a sister lived in a little house on the corner of Lawrence and Rosehill when I was a child.

“McLean Lane is built in their pasture, once roamed by one cow. My father bought the adjacent 10 acres to the west from the Chapman, brothers who had a laundry.”

The Chapmans used the land along Lawrence as pasture for the horses that pulled delivery wagons for the laundry.

Robinson’s parents bought the land from the Chapmans in the late 1920s and built a house.

“The house was built on one tongue of overburden from a quarry,” she wrote. “It was one of three located around Springfield that furnished the rock for foundations under the earliest buildings in town.

“A face of the old quarry can be seen at the end of the back lawn.”

Coal mines surrounded the house until after World War II.

A few lots were sold for houses over the years, but the woods and meadow remained intact.

“My parents dutifully planted multiflora rose, honeysuckle and other invasive species recommended by the state agriculture department,” Robinson said. “Now they must be removed.

“The old oaks were tended for over 50 years by Pete Moss, his sons and grandsons and various nephews and neighbors that he gathered to help.”

According to Robinson’s account, her vision was to preserve a remnant of Illinois’ original terrain outside of a city park, even though many surrounding properties eventually were developed.

“The Natural Lands Institute holds easements on Robinson Woods; and, now, Friends of Sangamon Valley holds the title.”

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