As visitors walk through the Hickory Knolls prairie they may notice the tall grasses and bright goldenrod swaying in the breeze, monarch butterflies fluttering above, hummingbirds flitting about and maybe a chipmunk scurrying through the native plants. What they will not see as they enjoy this beautiful scene is the hard work and dedication by St. Charles Park District staff to preserve this diverse and thriving habitat.
Hickory Knolls is only one piece of the 500-plus acres of natural areas maintained and restored by the Natural Resources team. Working behind the scenes, the team of three keeps the rolling hills, savannas, prairie, woodlands and wetlands abundant with native plants, so these natural areas can prosper, as it did long before the earliest settlers stepped foot onto the land that is now St. Charles.
Also unseen to visitors are the many extra hands of volunteers impacting the health of these natural areas. While the park district provides volunteer workdays every Saturday morning throughout the year, they are hosting three special volunteer opportunities in September and October. The days include:
– National Public Lands Day from 9am-12pm Saturday, September 29, at Hickory Knolls, 3795 Campton Hills Road in St. Charles.
– Seed Harvesting from 9am-12pm Saturday, October 6, at Otter Creek Bend Wetland Park, 6N850 Crane Road in St. Charles.
– Make A Difference Day from 9am-12pm Saturday, October 27, at Hickory Knolls, 3795 Campton Hills Road in St. Charles.
“Many people are not aware of the natural areas in our community, so participating in these special work days help individuals or groups get out, appreciate and learn about the native plants and how they thrive,” said Jill Voegtle, Natural Resources Director.
No experience is necessary as a member of the park district’s Natural Resources team will walk volunteers through the day’s activities, which could include seed collection and brush removal. The goal is to keep the natural areas alive and well with native plants by collecting the seeds of various species in one area, to be redistributed in other areas of need; and to remove non-native plants, which hinder the existence of these indigenous areas.
The native plant seeds are vital in helping the natural areas restore and/or maintain their habitat. Native plants and insects evolve together, so if non-native plants invade a prairie, for example, the insects will diminish and consequently it will affect the bird population and other wildlife such as chipmunks, deer and snakes.
“We need to support these natural areas in our community. If we don’t, they will disappear,” Voegtle said. “Volunteering is a way to help prevent that from happening. It’s something people can do now to make an impact long term.”
Once the workday is done, the seeds are dried out and packaged according to species to distribute in an area that best supports that particular plant. Seed mixes are also made for plants that may not have a specific home. Those are then spread in areas that may have had weed treatment and therefore, need to heal and grow again.
Additionally, clearing out non-native plants such as buckthorn and honeysuckle is also important to foster the growth of natural areas. Controlled burns help with this endeavor, but Voegtle explained not every area is burned since there are more than 500 acres and a short window of time for burning during the season.
All ages and abilities are welcome to volunteer. Work gloves, tools and refreshments will be provided. Volunteers should wear closed-toe shoes and dress for the weather and are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottle.
Registration is not required, but for groups of 8 or more, email Jill Voegtle at firstname.lastname@example.org