LAKE BLUFF — A small, overgrown forest in Lake Bluff is being returned to its natural state at the northwest corner of Green Bay Road and West Washington Avenue, courtesy of Lake Bluff Open Lands Association.
The association started restoring the forestland for Lake Bluff School District 65 in early August. The district acquired the parcel last year after it had been on the markiet for more than two years.
“The (previous) owner wanted to sell it and have two houses built,’ said Bill Nordeen, an Open Lands board member. “The school district bought it and Lake Bluff Open Lands is restoring it. They asked us to start a restoration.”
The new project is immediately east of one of Open Lands’ previous restoration efforts bounded by school’s circular driveway. That work was done between 10 and 12 years ago, according to Al Trefts, the Open Lands treasurer.
When the new restoration work is done, it will make a contiguous 2.5 acre natural forest, said Larry McCotter, the organization’s president. The school already uses the existing restored woodlands for educational purposes.
“They call it an outdoor classroom,” said McCotter. “There is a clearing in the woods with space for 18 children.”
The effort to restore the new parcel, which is overgrown with both natural and invasive species, has been intense, according to Nordeen.
“We had 220 volunteer hours in four days. The entire restoration will take three years to complete. We want the seed bank to become active,” he said, referring to the dormant seeds choked off by overgrowth.
“Once we reach the seed bank the land will revive,” McCotter added.
Since Lake Bluff Open Lands Association began in 1981, it has restored more than 225 acres of natural area in Lake Bluff, according to McCotter. In some cases the organization owns the land, and in other situations, like the new parcel by the school, it acts as a steward for others.
Work has been done with both the Village of Lake Bluff and the Lake Bluff Park District on restoration projects.
One project that McCotter, Trefts and Nordeen all say makes them proud is the restoration of the 35-acre Skokie River Prairie and Water Preserve off Highway 176. The effort began 23 years ago. It connects with Lake County Forest Preserve areas and Lake Forest Open Lands preserves to form a large, contiguous preserve.
Over the years not only has plant life regenerated, but birds and other animals that stayed away for years are now found there, including otters, according to Nordeen.
“That’s unbelievable that they’re really there,” said McCotter of the otters. “The Skokie River is not known as a very clean body of water, being downstream from (Naval Station) Great Lakes. The otters are a sign of clean water.”
Birds have returned too. Nordeen said the Skokie River Preserve now has the largest concentration of Woodcocks in Lake County. Frogs have returned as well.
“You can go in there and hear a chorus of frogs croaking,” said Nordeen. “A total of 183 species (of plants and animals) are there. That is just outstanding.”
McCotter said the work on all of the organization’s projects is done by volunteers. Funding comes from donations.
“That’s what makes it all possible,” said McCotter.