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!

Our Daffodil Tradition

Now is the time to pick up some free bulbs at Village Hall, to plant for springtime beauty!

Now is the time to pick up some free bulbs at Village Hall. Plant them this fall for springtime beauty!

Long Grove has a long-standing tradition with the daffodil, and if you’ve lived in the Village for more than a year you’ve seen them. Every spring, the roadsides are lined with thousands of yellow blooms signaling the end of the winter season and bringing the promise of warmer days ahead. Each year the Village of Long Grove offers free daffodil bulbs to our residents for planting in the public right-of-way. And I’m happy to announce that the bulbs have now arrived! They can be picked up now while the supply lasts, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For a little background on this tradition, we reached out to Long Grove Park District Volunteers Jane and Ken Wittig to do some research and I would like to thank them for providing the following history:

Where and when did the Long Grove daffodil tradition start? It has been going on for a long time–this year will mark what may be the 45th anniversary of the daffodil planting practice. No one knows exactly how many bulbs have been provided by the Village over the years. The Village Board allocates a fixed dollar amount to the project annually, and buys as many bulbs as possible with the budgeted funds. Last fall we provided 4,200 bulbs for residents to plant. If that number was consistent over 45 years, about 190,000 daffodils would have been available to beautify Long Grove. 

The daffodil idea came from a group of civic minded women who were the founders of the Long Grove-Kildeer Garden Club in the early 1970’s. The moving force at the front of the idea was Betty Coffin, whose husband, long time Village President and Trustee Robert Parker Coffin, convinced the Village to agree. The project launched as a community effort, with volunteers from the Garden Club, Park District, and Scout troops planting the bulbs. Among the enthusiastic participants were Timmie and John Clemetsen, Lee Bassett, and Barbara Turner. Funding came from the Village and from builders who donated bulbs for planting along the right of way in areas where they were developing homes. The idea was popular, has continued through economic ups and downs, and is still going strong today. We now depend on individual homeowners to carry on the tradition.

Stop by Village Hall now and pick up your bulbs for planting this fall. You will be thankful (and so will your neighbors) this coming April!

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.

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

Bark less, Wag more!

My grand-puppy, Willa.

My grand-puppy, Willa.

As I was exiting the health club this morning I noticed a bumper sticker that made me smile…a cute dog proclaiming, “Bark less, Wag more!” You know how sometimes the right message hits you at the right moment? This week I’ve heard my share of concerns from several residents on various different issues, and sometimes we all have valid reasons to “bark.” But instead of letting it get me down, I am going to choose to “wag” my tail a little harder. Because there are a lot of really good things to love about Long Grove, and I hear about them from residents that I listen to, who write to me, and who commented on our recent community survey. Here is just a snippet off the top of my head:

What Do We Love About Long Grove?

  • Seeing the sunny daffodils bloom each spring along the right-of-ways and getting free bulbs to plant each fall.
  • Witnessing a huge herd of deer bounding through the snow in the backyard.
  • Christmas lights on the covered bridge.
  • Open spaces that sport native and sometimes rare prairie wildflowers.
  • Knowing that Sunset Foods donates a little bit more to our local school districts each time we use cloth or reusable bags.
  • Having a drink at a tavern that has been in continual operation since the 1800’s.
  • Enjoying beautiful music on Towner Green on Sunday afternoons in the summer.
  • Friendly neighbors who share our “Long Grovian” tendencies.
  • Neighborhood walking trails and nature preserves we can use everyday.
  • Schools that prepare our children for the future with a high quality education.
  • Safe and tidy neighborhoods and volunteers who step up to keep them that way.

I hope your tail is wagging with many, many more reasons to love Long Grove.

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

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A Bit Further Down the Path

My favorite walking buddy, Aaron Underwood, tests out the new pathway segment.

My favorite walking buddy, Aaron Underwood, tests out the new pathway segment.

With the recent completion of another trail segment, our Long Grove pathway system is one step closer to making a connection to Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. Several years ago, when the sewer lines were put in for the Menard’s development, the Village took the opportunity to have a pathway installed on South Schaeffer Road. This north-south path runs almost the whole southern length of our village, and is considered a “spine” in the system to eventually link all neighborhoods to the historic downtown. Starting at Schaeffer Road and Route 53, the path had previously ended at Checker Road. The plan has been for this path to connect into the Lake County Forest Preserves pathways at Buffalo Creek, but making that final connection has proven very costly. Surprisingly, pathways are very expensive to engineer and construct–it’s almost like building mini roads. This is why most paths are created as part of a new housing development, or added by taking advantage of the opportunities created when roads are widened or infrastructure added.

The Village had applied and received some grant money from the State of Illinois, but it was only enough to get halfway there with the connection. By working with our counterparts on the Lake County Forest Preserves Board, we have been able to partner with them and they have committed to adding a path that connects where ours currently ends, linking the Village system with the one in Buffalo Creek. So even though the path currently looks like it dead-ends halfway, it will eventually connect to the Forest Preserve when they undertake their enhancements.

Pathways are one feature that our residents consistently advocate for, and we have a Village Pathways Committee that meets monthly to make headway on this initiative. This weekend, my husband and I went out to check out the new path and give it a spin. We’re getting closer to making that final connection to the Forest Preserve, one step at a time!

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!

Where the Wild Things Are

Photo of a wild turkey taken this spring in a Long Grove backyard.

Photo of a wild turkey taken this spring in a Long Grove backyard.

Having lived in Long Grove for 17 years now, I’ve had many different types of strange and exciting wildlife encounters. One creature that I have not seen yet, however, is a wild turkey.  Recently, fellow resident and friend Jodi Smith posted a picture on facebook of a just such a bird, strutting across her back yard, near the forest preserve. So cool, and certainly something that we don’t see every day!

I used to sometimes see red foxes cutting through our neighborhood, and I have also spotted the occasional weasel. Living close to a creek means that I’ve encountered a number of snapping turtles over the years, and some of them have been as large as a dinner plate. One spring, a momma snapper crawled up the creek bed into my next-door neighbor’s yard and laid her eggs in a nest that she dug overnight. It just happened to be near the bus stop for Country Meadows, so the kids and moms alike were entertained watching her industrious labor. Later in September, the eggs hatched and we were again treated to the bus stop spectacle of many, many tiny baby turtles emerging from a hole in the ground to march, one by one, back down to the creek. How did they instinctively know the way? Another one of nature’s mysteries, I guess.

Deer and coyotes are common visitors to many of our Long Grove properties, and sometimes they co-exist peacefully, sometimes not. About ten years ago, I looked out my family room window to discover a newborn fawn, curled up under a tree in our back yard. It was Memorial Day weekend, and we watched and worried over that baby from a distance, as it seemed like the mother was never around and had possibly abandoned him. I have since learned that this is a common behavior for the doe to forage and leave the newborn fawn alone for long time periods. Eventually momma deer did shown up, and off they went into the woods. But it was not so happily-ever-after. Because of the warm weekend we slept with the windows open, only to be awakened at dawn the following day by the most blood-curdling braying sounds coming from the tree line next to our yard. A large coyote had the fawn by the neck and was carrying it off across our back yard! I screamed and the coyote dropped the fawn right next to our patio. In retrospect, maybe the coyote was a mother too, just trying to rustle up some breakfast for her children, but at the time I was more concerned with my young children waking up and having to see a dead fawn outside the kitchen window. Then something miraculous happened. As my husband was getting ready to relocate the carcass, the fawn seemingly rose from the dead, shook his head, and stumbled off into the woods to live another day. All that summer, we saw the same fawn and his mother hanging around our yard, and we enjoyed watching him grow. We named them Jesus and Mary. Jesus graciously thanked me for saving his life by eating my hostas, roses, and daylilies!

Sometimes our wildlife gets a little too close for comfort, as we discovered one spring when a raccoon decided that our attic would be the perfect spot to set up her nursery. Telltale sounds in the night led my husband to set up video cameras to survey the nocturnal goings-on. Yes, the joyous sight of a mother raccoon and her babies was captured on film for us to enjoy. I will never forget the fun of being in Arizona with the family for Spring Break, and watching footage of momma raccoon wiggle and shimmy her furry backside into a tiny hole in our shake shingle roof in Long Grove. The wildlife “experts” that we hired to relocate the varmints conveniently left their ladder against our roof for easy overnight critter access. Party at the Underwood’s while they are out of town! We even posted a video of it on youtube—raccoons are REALLY good at climbing a ladder.

Despite the occasional crazy mishap with our local creatures, I really do love being where the wild things are. One of the joys of living in our Village is having the opportunity to observe nature up close and personal. Wildlife can be unpredictable, but also endlessly fascinating.