A bit of native prairie is returning to Glencoe at Shelton Park near the corner of Green Bay Road and Harbor. I was pleasantly surprised one morning while jogging through the park to see a new sign announcing this exciting development. In a land where tallgrass prairies once ranged as far as the eye could see and as tall as a horse, this approximately 1/2 acre plot may not seem like much, but believe me, it is!
It takes a long time and a lot of patience to establish a native prairie - prairie plants have extremely long roots that are fire and drought resistant. It may seem like the weeds have won the battle in the first 2-3 years, but ultimately the prairie plants will dominate and their dense root system will not allow weeds to grow.
Rick Bold, Glencoe Park District manager for this project, told me that it takes 3-5 years for the new seeds to grow and at least one winter of freezing temperatures are necessary for proper growth. In the meantime, the old sod will insistently try to grow back.
Shelton Park was renovated in 2004 and the idea of restorating a corner of the park for a restoration arose at that time. The park district is working with an outside consultant, Tallgrass Restoration, to properly oversee the landscaping and planting. A restoration can be described as a purposeful assembly of plants to recreate an ecosystem that is similar to the original.
The sign (shown at right) at Shelton Park announcing the prairie restoratation reads:
"In the commitment to be stewards of the environment, the Glencoe Park District is restoring this Tallgrass Wildflower Prairie to benefit the environment and larger community, enriching the natural heritage of Glencoe's wildlife, plants and flowers.
Reviving native plant communities can do many things, including reduce the maintenance costs and carbon footprint associated with machinery and fuel, provide storm water runoff benefits, and bring back the vibrant colors and native wildlife that enrich our landscape.
In the next 1-3 years in this area of Shelton Park, you will begin to see some of the beautiful wildflowers and grasses shown below. We thank you for your patience while this prairie is in its restorative process, and hope you look forward to its growth and development. For further information on this project, please contact Rick Bold at (847) 835-4648."
Here's the list of wildflowers and grasses that were planted in October, 2009:
Slender Wheat Grass
Smooth Blue Aster
New England Aster
Illinois Bundle Flower
Broad-leaved Purple Coneflower
Nodding/Canada Wild Rye
Virginia Wild Rye
Spike Blazing Star
Foxglove Beard Tongue/Smooth Penstemon
Purple Prairie Clover
To better understand the importance of prairie restoration consider that Illinois once had over 22 million acres of prairie, of which just 2000 acres are still intact. Even a small restoration enriches the soil, helps with erosion and sucks up extra water during rainfall. In addition, they attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Since the running and biking trail passes right past the prairie, look for the informational sign and stop by to check it out. Remember, be patient and you will soon see something very special growing right in the middle of Glencoe. . . something that had almost completely been lost to farming, commerce and housing is now making a small comeback in our midst.