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Volunteers needed for prairie restoration
By Sue Ter Maat | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/14/2008 4:32 PM

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If you have some spare time next weekend and love nature, stop by the Spring Creek Forest Preserve to be part of the largest prairie restoration project in the state.

The Spring Creek Stewards are looking for about 100 volunteers to plant millions of prairie seeds in two sessions - from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Headwaters Forest Preserve, which is south of Barrington Hills and west of Hoffman Estates.

Just show up and you'll be shown what to do, said Steve Packard, director of Audubon-Chicago region.

The meeting area is on the north side of Higgins Road, west of Sutton Road. Packard said to look for a volunteer sign and a bunch of people milling near the side of the road. Cars will be allowed to pull off to the side to park, he said.

Volunteers will be given buckets mixed with soil and seeds.

In groups of about 10 to 20, they will walk about a half mile along the preserve, taking handfuls of seeds and soils out of the bucket and dispersing them in the wind, Packard said.

More than 120 plant species will be spread across 160 acres of former corn and soybean fields.

The planting is part of a 3,910-acre restoration project in the Spring Creek Forest Preserve, which began in 2003 as the most ambitious restoration project in Illinois. For the past few years, volunteers have cut brush and trees like the nonnative, aggressive buckthorn, which choke out native plants.

Now, parts of the preserve are ready for the native seeds that naturalists hope will repopulate the land with native plants. The area, which 200 years ago was part of a vast prairie that once covered Illinois, was farmed and grazed.

Relatively recently it was returned to a more natural state as a Cook County Forest Preserve.

Last month, about 30 volunteers collected millions of prairie seeds from a small hill in the 97-acre Bluff Spring Fen Preserve, near Elgin.

That hill is the site one of the largest emergency plant rescue projects in the area.

In 1990, the former Healy Road Prairie, at Healy and Higgins roads, was about to be plowed under by a gravel mining operation. At the time, the Healy Road Prairie represented less than 1 percent of the state's tall grass prairie that had remained largely untouched by humans. Preservationists struck a deal that allowed them to go in and lift out the plants and carry them away to the Bluff Spring Fen for replanting.

Some of those plants produced seeds, which were collected last month. Now, some of those seeds will be used on Saturday to repopulate the new area. For more information, go to www.springcreekstewards.org.