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Free bird walk in Mokena spotlights nature preserve

JMendels |  Supplied photo

Jon Mendelson | Supplied photo

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:08AM



Mokena’s Crystal Creek subdivision is home to much more than people. Tucked away in this residential neighborhood between 187th and 191st streets, east of Wolf Road, is a 45-acre restored prairie and wetland area that many meadowlarks, shovelers, blue-winged teals and other species also call home.

Jon Mendelson, a professor emeritus at Governors State University, was happy to see such a variety of waterfowl hanging around the edges of the marshes.

“The fact that there is a colony of meadowlarks here is a good sign” of a healthy, functioning ecosystem, he said.

It is a unique spot in Mokena’s landscape, one created by the developer of the subdivision as part of a wetland mitigation effort.

“It really turned into a beautiful, serene nature preserve,” Mokena community development director Alan Zordan said.

Last year, the Land Conservancy of Will County reached out and formed a partnership with Mokena to maintain this precious bit of open space. It is filled with wildlife and native plants and includes a hiking trail, benches and birdhouses.

“There’s a lot of neat stuff to see,” Zordan said.

The public will get to see all the “neat” features that Prairie Park has to offer during a free bird walk from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday, conducted by Mendelson and sponsored by the Land Conservancy. Participants should gather at the corner of Crystal Creek and Drive and Foxglove Lane.

“It will be a fun bird walk. This is an unusual site,” Mendelson said. “It’s something you do not see every day.”

The Land Conservancy of Will County was formed in 2005 when the county approved a plan requiring that new conservation developments in unincorporated areas must preserve at least 50 percent of the land as open space.

But open space should be more than retention ponds, mowed grass and ballfields, conservationists said.

“We can make these areas livable habitats,” Mendelson said. “Any place that you can provide habitats for animals and plants is valuable.”

The optimal way to ensure that open space in these developments remains open and supports conservation values in perpetuity is to use a conservation easement, according to the conservancy, a nonprofit agency with an office in Frankfort.

In addition to the Mokena site, it also has a 50-acre conservation easement in Palomino Estates that buffers Forked Creek in Green Garden Township.

The Land Conservancy is willing to work with private landowners, municipalities and other agencies to preserve these precious pockets of open space, according to Karen D’Arcy, chairman of the Land Conservancy Board and a Governors State University professor.

“Often this is what people cherish most about their property — the woods, streams, wildlife. We make sure it is maintained,” she said.

Mokena is its first municipal partner, but the conservancy has reached out to other villages and agencies in an ongoing effort to improve and acquire land and easements, D’Arcy said.

“We offer tools to homeowners and developers and partner with municipalities to promote the value of open space,” conservancy executive director Julia Plumb said.

The folks at the conservancy are thrilled to have Mendelson on board.

Considered an expert in community ecology, Mendelson has been involved in conservation issues in Will County and Illinois since the 1970s, according to D’Arcy. The success of the Thorn Creek Nature Preserve is largely due to Mendelson’s dedication over the past 30 years, during which time he was chairman of the Thorn Creek Ecosystem Partnership Technical Committee, she said.

“We’re happy to have his knowledge. He takes all of this very seriously. He practices what he preaches,” D’Arcy said.

At the Mokena site, the conservancy also will host a Frog Walk from 7 to 8:30 p.m. May 2 and a Wildflower Walk from 10 to 11:15 a.m. May 18. Participants should meet at the intersection of Crystal Creek Drive and Foxglove Lane.

For more information, email landconservancyofwillcounty@gmail.com or the “Land Conservancy of Will County” Facebook page.



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