Monarch Mommas

Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club Members Paula Van Singel (L) and Kathy Michas serve as foster mothers to Monarch caterpillars in an effort to boost their dwindling numbers.

Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club Members Paula Van Singel (L) and Kathy Michas are two of many local ladies who serve as foster mothers to Monarch caterpillars in an effort to boost their dwindling numbers.

My first summer job as a youngster was “walking beans,” which involved getting up at the crack of dawn and going up and down the rows of soybean fields near my central Illinois hometown, pulling out noxious weeds by hand. One of those undesirables was milkweed, and it wasn’t until I moved to Long Grove many years later that I learned of this native plant’s importance in our ecosystem. Yes, times have certainly changed, because this year I found myself actually planting milkweed in my garden on purpose–to attract the Monarchs.

At the Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club’s September meeting this past week, members Paula Van Singel and Kathy Michas gave a fascinating program on the plight of the Monarchs, and their efforts to help more of the species to survive here in Long Grove. Milkweed serves as the primary food source for Monarch butterflies, and they lay their eggs on the undersides of the plant’s leaves. Only 1 to 5% of the eggs laid in nature will survive, so Paula, Kathy, and fellow “Monarch Mommas” bring the eggs and milkweed plants indoors once they are discovered, to foster the development of the eggs into caterpillars. They are cared for in a special habitat and fed milkweed until a chrysalis is formed, and in about two weeks the butterfly will emerge and be released.

Why do they do this? Recent studies have indicated that we have lost 90-93% of our Monarch population in North America in the last 20 years. According to Paula, her passion was sparked when she retired and started volunteering in the “Butterflies and Blooms” exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Besides helping the species boost their declining numbers, Paula says she is further inspired because, “every time a chrysalis opens, my faith is renewed.” Every year at this time the Monarchs from Illinois migrate south to winter in Michoacán, Mexico, where they are losing their natural habitat. The forest in which they hibernate has dwindled from 45 acres in 1995 to 1.7 acres today. Their food source of milkweed has become more scarce due to the use of pesticides, and changing weather may also be playing a role.

Did you know that the Monarch is our Illinois state insect? We can help the species to survive in Long Grove by planting more milkweed in our gardens and open spaces, and by being careful (or eliminating) the use of pesticides and insecticides on our property. Or if you really have a passion, you can follow the lead of ladies like Paula and Kathy and make an even bigger difference by fostering some “cats” next summer. You will have a front row seat to one of nature’s miracles!

What to Keep

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area, in April of this year.

One of our wilder neighbors, caught hunting in our backyard conservancy area in April of this year.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of simplifying. It all started this spring, when I retired from the Village Board and found myself cleaning out six years worth of job related clutter–physical, mental, and the electronic variety. I’ve moved on now to closets, and in a five-bedroom house we have more than a few. With three children now grown and living on their own, I’m pretty sure we can live without the Middle School fashion statements and treasures hauled home from numerous college apartments. Fat clothes? If I haven’t worn them in five years, why in God’s name am I hanging on to them? Yes, the charity pickup trucks have been welcome at my doorstep this summer.

All this purging has gotten me thinking about scaling back my life in other ways. I am volunteering a little bit less these days, while still focusing my leadership efforts on causes and groups that I’m most passionate about. As empty nesters, my husband and I regularly discuss the pros and cons of downsizing our properties now that it’s just the two of us at the dinner table. But as we talk about what to get rid of, it always leads us back to what we want to keep.

We do have an affection for our house where we have raised our family, but the happy memories from the last nineteen years are what we will cherish. Houses come and go. Yet, it is the intangible part of Long Grove that has gotten hold of our hearts and keeps us rooted to this land and this community. Our neighbors have been a blessing, and although I know they too are having similar downsizing thoughts, collectively we love and have been loved by too many individuals in this community to be able to give that up anytime soon. Even though it is part of a larger suburban area, Long Grove has the soul of a small town, and my husband and I feel a very part of that fiber.

Besides our human ties, the other tether holding us to this particular spot on the globe is the beautiful nature that we are fortunate to be a part of on a daily basis. We are the lucky recipients and stewards of the majestic open spaces strewn throughout our Village, set aside by prior neighbors so that native flora and fauna could co-exist with us for years to come. Sightings of coyotes, fawns, monarchs and prairie orchid bring peacefulness and serenity, when we really take the time to notice it. As our future days unfold, this is the richness that we want to remain.

The opportunity to be up close with nature, coupled with small town charm and neighborly kindness is what drew us to Long Grove in the first place. It’s what we choose to keep.

Open space in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

Our backyard view in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

 

Meeting the Challenge

Getting our backyard prairie certified with Mary Fortmann of Conserve Lake County (on the right). Shown here is a "very happy" Rattlesnake Master plant!

Getting our backyard prairie certified with Mary Fortmann of Conserve Lake County (on the right). Shown here is a “very happy” Rattlesnake Master plant!

Recently, my husband Aaron and I made good on a promise. In April of this year, I made a public pledge to work towards getting our 9 acres of property in Long Grove certified for eco-friendly practices and land stewardship (see my prior post, Accepting the Conservation Challenge). Last week, I am happy to say, we passed the inspection and are now the proud owners of a “Conserve@Home” yard sign!

We were lucky to enjoy a particularly beautiful October day for our visit from Conserve Lake County consultant, Mary Fortmann. While showing her around our yard, gardens, prairie and woodlands, we chatted about all the things we have done so far to help preserve the many native treasures. Mary had a wealth of knowledge about things growing in our yard that we weren’t sure of, in particular a prairie plant that we had never seen before and hadn’t identified yet. Turns out it is a huge rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) plant–the tallest one Mary had ever seen! Aaron and I learned so much from our consultation, particularly about species that we didn’t know we had (like Japanese barberry) and didn’t know were invasive (like burning bush). We received lots of tips and suggestions on lawn care and mulching that we will use now and next season. Mary identified many baby oak and hickory trees growing in the native woodland area of our property. I love her suggestion to transplant some of these seedlings to our more “suburban” area of the yard–why hadn’t that thought ever occurred to me? Brilliant! We now have several goals for next year including continuing our efforts at controlling the many invasive species starting to creep in such as teasel and reed canary grass. It will be an ongoing battle, but one worth fighting.

I would like to encourage all residents of Long Grove to schedule a consultation and learn more about how you can enhance your landscape in a sustainable way. The amount of personalized information we received was well worth the $50. charge. In addition, if you schedule a visit for 2017 before the end of this year, the Village of Long Grove will refund half the cost of your consultation ($25) as a way of encouragement. I was so delighted to get my own property certified, that I posted the picture above on Facebook, bragging about the giant specimen. My neighbor Claire threw down a challenge for next year–she is going to grow the biggest rattlesnake master in the neighborhood. Game on!

Proudly displaying our new yard sign showing that our property is certified!

Proudly displaying our new yard sign showing that our property is certified!

In Defense of the Flower

The White Fringed Prairie Orchid

The White Fringed Prairie Orchid

It is a testament to our ecological stewardship in Long Grove that we still have many varieties of native wildflowers that bloom in public and private woodlands and open spaces. In fact, we even have one variety that is a federally protected endangered species. I have never seen the white fringed prairie orchid, but State officials assure us it is here and have kept the site location confidential. Just one more way in which our Village is rare and special.

This flower has been recently under attack in our boardroom, as the private property owners try to rally Village support against the State’s attempts to further protect this endangered species. Do we side with the residents or the flower? Should the Village be involved at all? Some on the Board are critical of the State and dismissive of the ecological concerns. Emotions are high and accusations have been made. It has gotten so ridiculous that at the recent Village Board meeting one Trustee suggested that if it were his property, he might just take care of the problem with the use of some “agent orange.” Seriously?

I am in solidarity with the environmentalists, and spoke up in defense of the flower. After all,  isn’t it a resident too? This species has been blooming in Long Grove for more years than I have, and has been protected by the State at this location for decades. The experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois Nature Preserve Agency have studied the situation for many years and determined the best course of action for the collective greater good. The owners of the piece of property where the orchid lives beg to differ.

There are other factors at play in this; for brevity and confidentiality I have simplified the issue. But in the end, it all comes down to money. And if that doesn’t work, well, the State has something as a last resort called eminent domain. Never underestimate the power of a flower.

Woodland Wonders

Beautiful woodland flowers such as these bluebells are blooming this week at Reed-Turner Woodland.

Beautiful flowers such as these bluebells carpet the ground this time of year at Reed-Turner Woodland in Long Grove.

Last Friday marked the end of a hectic workweek, and I needed to go someplace to relax and mull over a few Village concerns tossing about in my mind. Since it was about as perfect of a Spring day as we get here in Long Grove, I decided to take a stroll through one of my favorite places–Reed Turner Woodland Nature Preserve. Early May is an ideal time to experience this local treasure because a majority of the native Illinois wildflowers are in bloom and it is simply glorious! With the redbud trees flowering alongside the phlox, violets, and Virginia bluebells, the palette of purples at the moment is stunning. Some of the other woodland varieties that I spotted blooming right now include: trout lily, jack-in-the-pulpit, May-apples, and red and white trillium. Several years ago, resident Kathy Wiberg trained me to be a guide at the preserve so that I could lead groups on field trips, and to this day I appreciate knowing the names and stories of so many wonders to be found in the woodland.

But to me, the greater beauty of Reed-Turner Woodland is intangible; it’s not the flowers but rather the serenity of the setting. The first visit I make in the Spring always gob-smacks me with the grandeur of nature and my own insignificance. I came to the preserve this particular day to let the woodland comfort me and to be reminded why I love Long Grove so much. At times, that can be a challenge. I have a favorite bench that sits up high on the ravine, overlooking the curving creekbed below. Our recent Spring rains have left a gentle but steady flow of water over the rocks and fallen limbs, and the murmur of this never fails to soothe my soul. For me, this is a tranquil place where I sometimes ask silent questions. And if I can calm my mind enough to allow peace to come, I will usually hear some answers.

This 36 acres of high quality biological diversity was given to the community many years ago by the Reed-Turner family and in the 1980’s was dedicated as an Illinois State Nature Preserve. The property is currently maintained and restored by the Long Grove Park District, with Barbara Reed-Turner still leading the way for preservation with her ongoing spirit and love for the land. When I need some personal inspiration to keep going, she is one of the residents that I most often think of.

This coming weekend, May 14th and 15th, the Long Grove & Kildeer Garden Club will be holding their annual native plant sale at the log-cabin Nature Center located at Reed-Turner. In addition to knowing that you are supporting the major fundraiser for our local community group (which sponsors a Stevenson High School scholarship and paid summer internships at the Woodland), you can rest assured that the plants for sale will work in your Northern Illinois yard, because they all come from local gardens. If you are interested in visiting the plant sale (I’ll be working on Sunday from 10-12–come say hello!) or strolling the woodland trails, Reed-Turner Woodland Nature Preserve is located at 3849 Old McHenry Road, in Long Grove. For hours and more information please call 847-438-4743.

Accepting the Conservation Challenge

Conserve Lake County staff members Greg Rajsky (left) and Sarah Surroz (right) pictured with me at the April 20th Annual Meeting.

Conserve Lake County staff members Greg Rajsky (left) and Sarah Surroz (right) pictured with me at the April 20th Annual Meeting.

Happy Earth Day! As we mark this yearly observance, I would like to share with you the story of a recent challenge that I accepted on behalf of the Long Grove Village Board, our residents, and myself personally.

Conserve Lake County is an organization of committed people who believe that by working together we can protect, preserve and enhance our Lake County land, water, and wildlife in ways that will improve our lives now and in the years to come. This group made up of individuals, families, homeowner associations, companies, corporations, municipalities, and schools recently held their Annual Meeting this past Wednesday evening at Independence Grove Forest Preserve. One of the themes of the night was the challenge, “How will YOU conserve Lake County in 2016?” I was one of four local leaders asked to accept the challenge and speak to the 250 attendees about my organization’s plans.

One of the benefits Conserve Lake County offers is on-site consultations and resources to assist private property owners in environmental stewardship. Advice is given to help residents maintain their properties so that they support clean water, rich soil, and resilient ecosystems. Properties that meet these guidelines can become certified through the Conservation@Home program. Our Village of Long Grove has taken measures over the years to preserve many of our native prairies, wetlands and forests in conservancy easements on private property, as well as in dedicated public open spaces. To encourage our residents to maintain this legacy, the Village Board recently voted to reimburse half the cost to any of our property owners who participate in the Conservation@Home program in 2016. Our community members have long been considered leaders in conservation and the potential for properties to become certified is significant. I believe we are up to the challenge!

I also believe that it makes a more powerful statement if we can lead by example. So to that end, my husband Aaron and I are accepting the challenge to work towards getting our own 9 acres of property in Long Grove certified this year. We made this public commitment not only to help bring attention to a worthy endeavor, but because we feel it is one more way to show our appreciation and respect for the natural beauty of the community that we are fortunate enough to live in.

At the conclusion of the meeting it was lovely to meet several Long Grove residents also attending, who I had not previously known. They thanked me for accepting the challenge on their behalf, and are also working towards getting their own properties certified. When like-minded individuals with a love of nature work together, great things can happen!

For more information on the Conservation@Home program visit ConserveLakeCounty.org

Is it Lawn or is it Prairie?

Open space in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

Open space in Long Grove this time of year features many wildflowers and native prairie plants.

Most municipalities have rules and regulations regarding property maintenance and in particular, standards for keeping a tidy yard. But Long Grove is not like most municipalities. Our community includes many acres of forest preserve, park district lands, and platted conservancy, which are protected through county and state regulations. In addition to this, many privately owned lots in our Village have been partially or fully maintained as open space prairie. Residents have seeded these areas with native plants, and hold the occasional controlled burns suggested for best management.  Many of these natural areas are adjoining platted conservancy, so that there is no distinction where lawn ends and open space begins.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to learn this summer that we have an ordinance restricting the height of grass and weeds on private property to 8 inches. Prior to 2009, this rule did not exist, due to the unique nature of our local open spaces as described above. But after the economic crash in 2008 and the subsequent default of properties to banks and other agencies, exterior property maintenance became a concern. The “tall grass” restriction has been successfully used by our staff to keep vacant properties from becoming an eyesore, in the few instances where it was needed. Until recently.

Disputes between neighbors happen, even in friendly towns like Long Grove. Complaints ensued, and unfortunately this ordinance was used to force a resident to mow a large unbuilt lot that was being maintained as open space. As a result, our Village Board took a look at this rule at our past meeting, with an eye on making it more compatible with the character of our community. When is it a lawn, and when is it a prairie? Is Long Grove a better place with less milkweed for the monarchs to find? We will revisit the distinctions on our upcoming agenda, with the goal being to craft standards that can be more practically applied.

I do know one thing. Lawn or prairie, the wildflowers they contain this time of year are gorgeous!

Golden Girl

Girl Scout Erin McDermott in the butterfly garden she has created at Reed Turner.

Girl Scout Erin McDermott in the butterfly garden she has created at Reed Turner.

One of the more enjoyable things that I get to do as Village President is to recognize students for their achievements. Today I was honored to meet Erin McDermott, who is completing her Gold Award project for Girl Scouts here in Long Grove at Reed Turner Woodland and Nature Center. Many of us are familiar with the Eagle Scout award in Boy Scouting. The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest honor that can be achieved, and 2016 marks it’s 100th anniversary.

For Erin’s project, she chose to restore a prairie and install a butterfly garden and sitting area at the Woodland. This afternoon she held a ribbon cutting ceremony, education session, and open house to unveil the restored garden to the public. I was lucky enough to get a personal tour by Erin, and see the beautiful wildflowers and benches she has created on which to sit and contemplate nature. It is a great enhancement to an already wonderful community treasure.

In today’s world, our kids have so many choices about how they want to spend their time. I want to thank Erin for giving of her time to make our community a little bit better. I was happy today to congratulate her for sharing what she has learned, and for her recent accomplishments.  And, I will be making some trips back in the months ahead to check for more butterflies!

 

Conserving Our Open Spaces

openSpace

The snow has finally melted here in Long Grove, and it won’t be long now until our beautiful open spaces look as green and inviting as the one pictured above.  I took this shot in early spring of 2014, on one of the Village Pathway segments that connect through Stonehaven subdivision.  I know many residents share my deep appreciation of the preservation efforts of those who came before us.  We are so very fortunate to be able to enjoy our natural areas in Long Grove because of the many parcels set aside and protected through special conservancy zoning.  To that end, our Village has a Conservancy and Scenic Corridor Commission, which works to help preserve prairies, wetlands, and woodlands as they come under development, and to help residents restore these precious landscapes and keep them healthy and thriving as time moves on.  I attended the recent meeting of the CSC Commission and it was great to see some renewed enthusiasm as we welcomed a new commissioner, Helen Wilson.  A wonderful presentation was given by representatives from Conserve Lake County, a local agency which shares our mission of preservation, restoration, and education.  The group talked about ways in which we could work together to partner resources in helping apply for grants, and in working with homeowners to educate them about the best ways to control invasive species.  In Long Grove, we want to encourage our residents to practice careful stewardship and practical ways to do this were discussed, such as offering seminars and training days, and reaching out directly to Homeowner Associations.  Even though the view from my office windows today is somewhat brown and drab, the Spring season is now officially upon us!  I cannot wait until our pathways dry out and my “Grove Trotter” walking group takes to the trails once again.  And I am thankful that these open spaces remain for us to enjoy, and lovingly maintain for the generations to come.