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.

That’s So “Long Grovian”

Our Village Hall is very "Long Grovian"

Our Village Hall is very “Long Grovian”

Having served on the Village Board for the last four years, I have noticed a curious term that pops up from time to time. It is generally used by someone outside of our community as a description. Something or someone is identified as being very “Long Grovian,” and it has taken me a few years to properly nail down what that actually means. Is this an insult or a compliment? And I’m not really sure I can accurately identify the characteristics, but in an attempt to clarify, here goes…

Something is “Long Grovian” if it has a quaint, rural appeal. A resident wrote to me recently and used the term “pastoral” repeatedly. While I’m not aware of any shepherds tending to their flock here in town these days, I think this is a reference to our abundance of open space. Having large, wooded lots and many ponds and prairies in our backyard vistas gives a certain feel to our area that is certainly not typical of suburbia. Our low density lends a calm and bucolic feel to our neighborhoods, and the occasional deer or coyote crossing the roads adds to the rustic charm. To love Long Grove is also to have an appreciation of local history. Many of the buildings in our downtown crossroads date from the late 1800’s, and our covered bridge was constructed to appear as if it belongs to that era as well. Our Village Hall (pictured above) is a renovated tavern from the 1850’s, and gives a distinctive impression about our community to all who visit. But our “Long Grovian” ways mean that many things they did not have in the 1800’s are still absent today:  public restrooms, wheelchair accessible buildings, wireless fire & sprinkler systems, city sewers, stoplights, and Lake Michigan water, to name a few.

Someone is “Long Grovian” if they embrace this agrarian vibe, along with a certain sense of self-sufficiency that comes along with it. An appreciation of nature and wildlife is necessary as well. I’m describing the kind of person who upon discovering racoons in the yard, would be inclined to feed them rather than immediately call the relocation specialists. Recently, a group of residents petitioned the Board to be allowed to keep chickens in our Village, and we do still have a few horse properties scattered about. True “Long Grovians” embrace our minimal government philosophy, and many place a high value on free will and understand that a certain degree of volunteerism and community involvement is required to operate with such a small municipal staff. I am also going to go out on a limb and say that many “Long Grovians” are viewed as economical, in a Mid-western thriftiness sort of way. I believe we also have a reputation of being stubborn about the protection of our green spaces, and for resisting urban sprawl and the related development that comes along with. But our unique character is seen as very compatible with the arts and artistically minded individuals, and this lends a distinctiveness to our historic downtown and to our festivals.

So how “Long Grovian” are you? I know many residents who would say they find nothing in this blog entry that remotely describes them. I will admit that I fit some of the stereotypes, but certainly not all. And in reality, there is no such thing as a “Long Grovian.” We are a collection of individuals who have chosen this community for a variety of very good reasons, many of which having nothing to do with wildlife and old buildings. Maybe it is the great schools, proximity to your job, O’Hare, or Chicago. Whatever it is that attracted you to Long Grove and keeps you here today, that is part of the attribute that makes you a true “Long Grovian.”

The Grove Trotters

Grove Trotters (L to R) Carolyn Denaro, Rosemary Thalanany, Marie Roth, and Angie Underwood on a walk in October, 2014.

Grove Trotters (L to R) Carolyn Denaro, Rosemary Thalanany, Marie Roth, and Angie Underwood on a walk in October, 2014.

What is better than a springtime walk in a woodland; gazing at the blooms of the redbuds and virginia bluebells and listening to the songs of the spring peepers? Having a Grove Trotter or two for company, that’s what!  The creative name for our Long Grove walking group is courtesy of resident Renee Clark, who first organized a number of ladies under this name to participate in a breast cancer walk in Chicago over a decade ago.  That group disbanded, but several years later reorganized with the help of the Neighbors and Newcomers Club to form a weekly walking group to explore the many forest preserve trails and neighborhood pathways in and around Long Grove. Our group is informal, fluid, and members join in as they are able. We are fortunate to have some great local places to get out and enjoy nature, but as women, we all know that there is safety in numbers.  Plus, it makes us less likely to skip the exercise if we know a buddy is waiting to also hit the trail. And of course, there is the gossip…I mean, lively conversation to make the time pass more quickly!  My first experience speaking up at a Village Board meeting was due to the Grove Trotters.  Several of our members came to a meeting to ask the Trustees to allocate funds to help pave and extend a walking path on south Schaeffer Road.  And it worked!  The Village supported that path improvement almost 10 years ago, and this summer we are using grant funds to connect the Schaeffer Road trail to the Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve.  I’m looking forward to exploring this new pathway in the fall with my Grove Trotter friends.  This spring we are working on our daily 10,000 steps in Heron Creek Forest Preserve, Stillman Nature Preserve, Reed-Turner Woodland, and several neighborhood paths in Long Grove.  If you would like to join the Grove Trotters for a walk, contact me via email and I will let you know the time and meeting place for our next outing. Get moving, enjoy the woodland wildflowers, and you might meet a new neighbor in the process!

Teasel Masters

Harvey Lease, Marie Borg, and Lee Bassett with their awards

Harvey Lease, Marie Borg, and Lee Bassett with their awards

The Long Grove Park District held their second annual “For the Birds” event this past weekend at Reed-Turner Woodland.  Mother Nature herself cooperated, and served up nearly perfect weather for hiking and observing our native wildflowers and birds.  A birdhouse competition was held, with many creative and clever entries crafted by a variety of residents vying for the grand-prize title.  The culmination of the event was a reception held today, to honor three special Village volunteers.  Harvey Lease, Bob Borg, and Lee Bassett were celebrated for the many contributions that they have made to Long Grove through service to the Park District, Historical Society, and Village government.  I have known these men for years in working together with them on the Historical Society Board, and both Bob and Lee have served for many years on the Conservancy and Scenic Corridor Commission for the Village.  But the Park District knows them best as “Teasel Masters.”  Bob, Lee and Harvey have put in numerous hours as stewards to the Reed-Turner Woodland, and are known throughout the community for their passion towards eradicating (or at least trying to control) this invasive species.  Sadly, Bob Borg passed away earlier this month, and he will be greatly missed by all those in our town whom he has touched over the years.

But the legacy of Bob’s volunteer service (and that of Lee and Harvey as well) lives on, and I hope that it can serve as an inspiration to our current residents.  In Lee’s remarks today, he touched on the fact that Long Grove has long been a community that greatly relies on volunteers.  Past Village President Maria Rodriguez spoke about the importance for our community to pull together with one another and work cooperatively, as we have in recent years.  Every day I see the results of so many residents, past and present, each doing what they can to make a difference.  It was heartwarming today, to be surrounded by so many of the community leaders who are currently doing good works in a variety of areas–Arts & Music Council, Rotary, Lions Club, Historical Society, Park District, Village Board & Commissions, the list goes on….Maybe we can’t all be “Teasel Masters,” but we can let the volunteer spirit shown to us by Harvey, Lee, and Bob be an example for the generations to come.

Conserving Our Open Spaces


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.



Infinite Beauty

Long Grove Coyote

This magnificent image of a coyote was taken two winters ago in my backyard.  It illustrates one of my favorite quotes:

“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty”–John Ruskin.

I wonder if she is still hunting mice in my conservancy; if she was part of the howling and yipping pack that we heard Sunday night in the blizzard.  Earlier this winter, I had a resident phone me to complain that a deer had died in the open space near his neighborhood, and it needed to be removed because it was attracting coyotes.  My response involved some version of the “circle of life” explaining that the coyotes are residents of Long Grove too, and don’t we live here because we value the abundance of nature?  I’m not sure he agreed with me, and as it turned out, the deer was on private property so the Village couldn’t remove it had we wanted to.  Even though I wish the ground hog had predicted a quicker end to our current season, I am choosing to appreciate the beauty of this winter.  The trees in my backyard vista look so much more graceful with snow outlining the delicate branches.  One of the joys of living in our Village is the opportunity to observe the wild things up close and personal.  The challenge is allowing ourselves the chance to really see it.