2019 Schoolyard Habitat Grant
The Douglas-Hart Nature Center and 7th grade Charleston Middle School students, continued their partnership helping to improve the grounds at the Douglas-Hart Nature Center. With funding from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources School Yard Habitat Grant, the Jadel Youth Fund, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation and the Illinois Conservation Foundation, we were able to purchase prairie plants and materials for pollinator boxes.
During the class visit from D-H staff, students learned about the project site, the pollination process, types of pollinators, flower structure, the importance of pollinator boxes, and how plant and animal interactions are important to the health of the ecosystem. They also got to play pollinator themed games, and dissect a flower.
During the semester, they painted and filled the pollinator boxes with a variety of materials. They enjoyed telling us about the materials they had collected and why they thought certain materials would be beneficial for pollinators.
During the workday, they planted over 1,000 native plants and installed 10 pollinator boxes throughout our prairie. The students are very proud of their work and were very excited to learn that in a few short weeks, leafcutter bees took up residence in the pollinator boxes.
South Prairie Project
We have been actively managing the South Prairie to increase biodiversity. Prescribed burns are conducted. Following the burn, prairie seed is spread. Seed is collected from local prairies. Spread seed includes different native forbs such as butterfly milkweeds, blazing stars, penstemons and coneflowers.
For many years volunteers have been helping in the prairie. Volunteer activities range from cutting down encroaching seedlings, pulling goldenrod and planting prairie plants.
In Summer of 2017 we made some major improvements to the south prairie. We dug an ephemeral pond. The seasonal nature of the ephemeral pond will benefit amphibians and invertebrates because fish will not be present. Kansas High School students came out in the fall and helped us plant over 500 native prairie plants on the berm of the ephemeral pond.
Our old 1915 windmill was replaced with a 1919 model and we added buffalo. Well two buffalo...take a look at the picture.
Willows are a beneficial tree at the wetland area. They provide shelter for animals and are great pollinator plant for bees. In a wetland to many willows can start to over take the wetland. To avoid this from happening and making sure that our wetland is available to animals especially during migratory bird season, we are selectively removing willows. In the summer of 2016 we enlisted the help of goats to remove willows by eating them. The goats were helpful, but we still had willows to remove. Douglas-Hart was awarded a Schoolyard Habitat Grant in 2017 to work with Charleston Middle School students from the 7th grade. They came out in the spring to help remove willows and pull goldenrod. Removing the willows was a big project, in the summer we had volunteers from our conservation crew help with the removal. Brush piles of removed invasives were burned by D-H staff and volunteers. Some of the brush piles were left as wildlife shelters. Students from Charleston Middle School came back in the fall to help us plant After clearing invasive plants, the students planted over 1,000 native plants in the wetland prairie area. Next year the plants will have a full growing season and so many more plants will be in bloom. Many of the native plants that were chosen because they are good for pollinators.
Throughout the woodland, staff has been removing invasive species. One of the worst offenders on our property is bush honeysuckle. Honeysuckle is a plant that is native to Asia and has escaped into woodlands in Illinois. In the 1970’s honeysuckle was planted at Douglas-Hart Nature Center as recommended before its invasive and increasing aggressive qualities were known. The removal of honeysuckle as well as non-native trees; black locust, black alder and Siberian elm and the herbaceous garlic mustard is the first phase in creating a healthy woodland.
After the invasives and non-native species are removed, native woodland trees, shrubs and flowers typical of a temperate deciduous forest of Illinois are planted. A healthy, native forest consists of four layers. Temperate deciduous forests get their name for the dominant, upper canopy trees (the tallest trees) present including oak and hickory trees. The structure of most temperate deciduous forests includes three other layers. The secondary canopy layer of shorter trees including Ohio buckeye, redbuds, dogwoods and paw paw. Next, there is a layer of shrubs such as wild hydrangea, Juneberry, buttonbush; and a forth layer composed of herbaceous plants including Jack-in-the-pulpit, dutchman’s breeches, woodland phlox and yellow bellwort.
Removing the invasive species and planting native ones will restore the original woodland habitat and improve food sources for birds and other species. Most non-native species are not good food sources or habitat for native species. Typically when an area is taken over with non-native species it becomes useless for our native animals.
With the help of countless volunteers, Douglas-Hart Nature Center has continued to use this practice of removing invasives and planting natives as we move through the woodland. Some of the areas we are currently working on include, the East Edge of our property, the area between Woodpecker Way and Thrush Trail and the west woodland edge.
Charleston Middle School Schoolyard Habitat Project 2018
Douglas-Hart Nature Center and Charleston Middle School continued their partnership helping to improve the grounds at the Douglas-Hart Nature Center. In May, 120students from the 7th grade came out to help remove invasives and plant over 1000 native prairie, woodland, wetland and savanna plants. Funding for this project was from the Illinois Schoolyard Habitat Action Grant Program that is administered through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' (IDNR) Division of Education and is funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Jadel Youth Fund, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation and the Illinois Conservation Foundation.
Before coming out to the site, Douglas-Hart staff visited there classroom and talked about the project. Students participated in an activity where they decided what plants needed to be removed from the site and what plants would be kept. The also decided on the landscape plan for the woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna area. By looking at different native species they were able to decide based in soil type, amount of sunlight and height, where the plants would grow the best.
They are very proud of the work that they did. Stop by the Hedge Row and see the restored area!