In recent years, the Park District has increased its emphasis on acquiring and preserving natural areas. To date, the Park District owns 991 acres of parkland, 392 of which are natural areas. Park and Village officials work with developers to integrate natural areas into new developments, combining neighborhood playgrounds with greenways, wetlands, prairies, and wooded areas. Not only do these natural areas help preserve the ecological balance in the community, they also allow residents to enjoy hiking, fishing, biking, and walking areas right near their homes.
Natural areas provide a wealth of benefits. In addition to the year-round splendor of color and texture, the plants that grow in natural areas give off oxygen and filter impurities from storm water. Native birds and animals also thrive in natural areas, thanks to the combination of shelter, water, food sources, and open space. Humans benefit too--it's hard not to feel relaxed when smelling native wildflowers or listening to songbirds. Studies even show that spending time in natural areas reduces blood pressure. Open spaces encourage active physical activities, and trails provide safe places for skaters, bikers, joggers, and walkers to stay physically fit.
In addition to natural areas in residential developments (like Lakeview Estates and Deerpath Creek) two of the District's largest parks, 22-acre Waa Kee Sha Park and 150-acre Saw Wee Kee Park, contain natural wooded areas and hiking trails. The site of family campfires, Waa Kee Shaw Park is popular with hikers and cross-country skiers. Saw Wee Kee Park offers a canoe launch, spectacular Fox River frontage, and 6.5 miles of horseback-riding trails.
Why Do We Clear Invasive Plants From Our Woods?
What are invasive plants? Invasive plants are exotic plants that, depending on the species, may crowd out native plants and severely impact the number of native plants in a region. Invasive plants can be trees, shrubs, flowers or grasses. Invasive plants were brought over to North America from other continents and often for well intended purposes, such as agriculture, landscape and even conservation. Often they were brought over by accident, or from people bringing plants to America as a reminder of their heritage or home.
Invasive plants have similar characteristics in that they reproduce rapidly, have no natural enemies in North America and will spread rapidly over an area in just a few years, often becoming a monoculture (an area devoid of all but one plant species). As invasive species replace the native plants, they in effect are wiping out plant diversity. Plant diversity is the hundreds of different native plants that make up a healthy habitat, be it prairie, marsh, woodland or river corridor.
Native plants are unable to compete with the aggressive nature of invasive plants. When plant diversity is removed, the balance of nature is threatened. It took thousands of years since the last glaciers to form the prairies, woodlands and wetlands of the Midwest. Mammals, insects, birds, reptiles, aquatic creatures and other native plants are all dependent on this diversity of plant life. Without diversity, all of this flora and fauna are affected negatively. They simply leave, or don't survive.
The Park District clears invasive plants as part of an integrated management plan with the goal of bringing back native plant diversity to our overgrown woodlands. Historically, Midwestern woodlands were either open, sun dappled areas, with a carpet of wildflowers, or savannas with large oak trees spaced far apart with a combination of prairie and shade tolerant wildflowers on the ground under the oaks. Coinciding with clearing invasives is the use of prescribed fire and the planting of native wildflowers, trees, shrubs and grasses back into the environment. The plan is to bring back that open woodland with the many native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses that belong in this region.
For more information about Oswegoland Park District natural areas, contact Natural Resource Manager Dave Margolis at 630.554.1010 or email@example.com.
What you should know about the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)
The Emerald Ash Borer may be heading toward your Ash trees! This invasive pest has made its way from Michigan to Ohio, and the state of Illinois, along with 20 other agencies, is on high alert for potential infestation in Illinois. A plan of action to contain, control and eradicate the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) should it be found within Illinois’ borders includes a public awareness campaign. The plan asks for YOUR help! Learn more about the Emerald Ash Borer and what you can do.
To learn more about Oswegoland's natural areas, please refer to the following articles from the Park District:
- Benefits of Natural Open Spaces
- Where Are These Areas?
- What Good Are Natural Areas?
- How Do Natural Areas Save Me Money?
- Are There Any Problems with Natural Areas?
- Good for Wildlife
- Good for Humans
- Good for Water Quality
- Good for Your Wallet
- Room To Improve
- More Work Ahead
- Early Water Management
- Environmental Consequences
- "New" Practices
- Removing Dams
- How You Can Help
- Support Local Conservation
Natural Areas in Residential Settings [back]
Benefits of Natural Open Spaces
Even as ongoing development in the Oswego area eliminates the large open fields of former farms, it often helps save or enhance important natural areas. Although we give up some of the large vistas that farm fields provided in the past, the Oswegoland Park District has been working with developers to preserve more diverse, ecologically important tracts of open space. As our community grows, such natural, open areas play an increasingly important role in improving the quality of life here in Oswegoland. Come learn about the benefits of natural open spaces as we tour some unique natural areas near you!
Something Old, Something New
Oswego has always had natural open spaces. There were low-lying areas that farmers couldn't plow because they were too wet. We now know these areas as wetlands. There were areas along waterways that were not suitable for farming due to frequent flooding. We now know these areas as floodplains. There were also wooded areas and areas of rocky, clay-like soil that weren't productive for farmers that were considered "wastelands." In recent years, we have learned just how critical to the environmental balance all of these unproductive areas really are. Fortunately, as residential development replaces farm acreage, park district planners are working with village officials and developers to find new ways to make these old open spaces into community assets. These "new" natural areas not only help preserve the ecological balance in the community, they also give residents access to hiking, fishing, biking, and walking areas right near their homes.
Where Are These Areas?
One of the most significant natural areas in the Park District's expanding inventory is in the Lakeview Estates subdivision. Lakeview's more than 32 acres of wetland prairie combines undisturbed natural areas with wetland corridors restored after the developer created a 27-acre lake. The developer of neighboring Deerpath Creek extended the natural area through that subdivision, south to Morgan Creek. In addition to preserving a small area of native wetland, Deerpath Creek's developer created a much larger natural area that serves the flood control requirements for the entire subdivision. Significantly, this new wetland area is the first example in the village of a new ecologically-friendly storm water control system that encourages storm water to be returned to the ground slowly. (By contrast, typical detention basins hold water temporarily until it can be released through a pipe.) Not only does the new process provide excellent flood protection, it produces cleaner groundwater. Native plants filter the water as it either returns to the soil or makes its way slowly to the creek.
The floodplain along the Waubonsie Creek, now known as the Waubonsie Greenway, provides a wonderful corridor of open space stretching through a series of neighborhoods, including Victoria Meadows, The Ponds, Fairway Crossing, and Mill Race Creek. Along the Greenway, residents can enjoy wooded areas featuring trees dating back to before the area was settled. The woodland also supports a variety of native woodland plants that bloom at different points during the year.
Residents who enjoy fishing appreciate the natural area in Stonegate Park. In 1999, the Park District improved this area by removing the Waubonsie Creek dam that had been severely damaged by heavy rains in July of 1996. Removing the dam has allowed the Park District to restore the stream to a more natural condition. In addition to improving water quality in the stream, this process is expected to improve fish populations by restoring small mouth bass and redhorse spawning areas. To learn more about how the Park District cares for area waterways, click here.
What Good Are Natural Areas?
Visual Benefits: Just like their farmland counterparts, natural areas make a community feel spacious and open, rather than crammed together and crowded. Natural areas also provide a variety of colors and textures-brightly colored birds swoop through the air as the wind creates ripples in a sea of grass. (Do the words "amber waves of grain" come to mind?)
Environmental Benefits: Besides being pleasing to the eye, natural areas also play an important role in environmental quality. The plants in natural areas give off oxygen necessary for our survival, and they help to filter impurities out of the air. Plants also serve as natural water filters, removing pollution and impurities from storm water before it flows into creeks, lakes, streams, and rivers. Homeowners also benefit from the natural flood control provided by wetlands and floodplains, as these natural areas absorb much of the impact of heavy rains. Because wetlands allow water to seep back into the ground gradually, they help recharge the aquifers from which neighboring communities draw their drinking water. Even though our own drinking water comes from deep aquifers that are recharged as far away as Canada, other communities' wells are dependent upon the water that seeps into Kendall County soil.
Biodiversity and Wildlife: Because the natural world is like a web, with all parts intertwined, a healthy ecosystem needs to be able to support a diverse assortment of plants and animals. Natural areas can help promote this goal in residential areas. The variety of prairie grasses, native plants and small shrubs in natural areas provide a wonderful balance to the uniform lawns that most of us work so hard to maintain. Wildlife also thrives in natural areas, thanks to the combination of shelter, water, food sources and space. Oswegoland residents can enjoy watching herons, egrets, pheasants, hawks, songbirds, muskrats, beaver, woodchucks, deer, and even bald eagles near their homes. One of the Park District's newer sites, Chesterfield Park, includes 5 acres of natural area along the creek, left undisturbed for wildlife. Park users can enjoy the lake and playground equipment, right alongside the animals that live and play near the creek.
Mental Health, Stress Reduction, and Fitness: Spending time in nature is one of the simplest and least expensive ways of reducing the stress of our hectic lifestyles. It's hard not to feel calm and relaxed when you're watching animals at play, enjoying the smell of wildflowers, or listening to the sound of rippling water or singing birds. Studies have shown that spending time in natural settings can even lower blood pressure. Natural areas also provide ample opportunities for active fitness and sports.
In the fall of 1998, the Park District opened the 2.5-mile Waubonsie Trail, which stretches across Oswego, from Douglas Road (at Jaycee Park) to the Fox River. The trail is a favorite site for walkers, joggers, bikers, and skaters of all ages throughout the year. More recently, the development of the Fox River Trail lets residents enjoy scenic views of the Fox River. In addition to connecting neighborhoods within our community, these trails connect Oswego with communities in Kane, DuPage, and McHenry counties and beyond.
Education: Natural areas also provide a living laboratory for environmental and biological science classes. Behind the Oswego Public Library, for example, students can see the evidence of two geological eras in the rock formations along the creek bed. Students can even find fossils in the exposed limestone, including examples of Tentaculites oswegoensis, an organism discovered here and named for Oswego. The Park District also involves area students in the care and maintenance of natural areas as often as possible. Textbook lessons on prairie ecology come alive for junior and senior high school students as they help Park District workers conduct periodic prairie burns. To learn more about the benefits of natural areas click here.
How Do Natural Areas Save Me Money?
Your park district does not maintain natural areas like it maintains developed parks, and the differences add up to big savings for taxpayers. Compared to the cost of caring for a neighborhood park, natural areas save taxpayers approximately $1300 per acre every year. In developed parks, we need to mow regularly, empty trash containers, and care for playground equipment and other amenities. In most wetland and grassy areas, the primary method of care is "prescribed burning"-an annual or biennial procedure that removes weeds and allows native plants to thrive. In natural areas where burning is not desirable or appropriate, we can usually maintain the area by mowing once or twice during the growing season. Occasionally we need to remove undesirable weeds, shrubs, or trees, but other maintenance is minimal. When litter blows into natural areas, we can sometimes get volunteer service groups to help us remove it, free of charge. To learn more about how natural areas save you money, click here.
Are There Any Problems with Natural Areas?
Although respect for natural areas is by far the rule, insensitive or uncaring humans create problems when they use public open spaces as their private dumping grounds. When residents dispose of grass clippings, rocks, landscape or garden waste, animal waste, or even old motor oil in natural areas, they selfishly damage the environment that belongs to all of us. When the Park District must clean up after such people, all of us bear the cost.
Some of us also still struggle to accept natural areas as part of a healthy, thriving residential landscape. It isn't easy to rid ourselves of those early lessons that weeds and tall grass are signs of neglect. Fortunately, understanding the benefits of natural areas can help us acquire a "new set of eyes," trained to appreciate the many advantages natural areas bring to our community. The next time you are out walking, let your "new eyes" lead you to explore some of the natural areas near you.
Good Development: How Mother Nature Wins [back]
No matter where you look, the Oswegoland community is growing. Commercial development is booming, and tomorrow's homes are sprouting up in the midst of last year's corn and soybean fields.
In the face of all this rapid growth, the Oswegoland Park District has been working with the Village of Oswego to preserve some of the open space and "country-feel" that originally attracted so many of us to this corner of Kendall County. Although the Park District can't stop growth, we can work with Village officials to protect some of our area's wetlands, woodlands, and waterways. By protecting existing natural areas and by re-creating natural areas in former farm fields, we can help the Oswegoland community continue to be a great place to live!
Good for Wildlife
Red foxes in Windcrest, pheasants in Lakeview Estates, osprey fishing in Chesterfield Lake . . . is rapid development destroying wildlife habit? No--native birds and animals are appearing in these neighborhoods because we've made them welcome. We've made natural areas an integral part of the places where you live and play.
Over the past ten years, park and village administrators have worked with developers to design residential areas with ribbons of green space linking wetlands, creeks, and prairie environments. These natural areas allow wildlife to coexist with humans by providing food, water, and shelter, as well as opportunities for wildlife to roam. As a result, wildlife has a better chance of surviving and thriving in the Oswegoland area today than ever before (even though our area continues to lose more and more acres of farm fields each year to residential and commercial development). Corn and soybean fields don't provide the kind of year-round habitat that native creatures find in wetland prairies, like the natural areas around Bartlett Lake (Lakeview Estates) and Deerpath Creek. To learn more about the benefits of natural areas in residential developments, click here.
In some cases, agricultural practices helped preserve important natural areas, such as the wooded area behind Old Post School known as Cook's Savannah. However, like other isolated natural areas, Cook's Savannah became a much more diverse habitat once it was connected to the Waubonsie Greenway and Chesterfield Lake. Now hawks roost in the trees and hunt in the greenway. Residents regularly see deer grazing up and down the Waubonsie Creek.
Good for Humans
Humans also benefit when green spaces are incorporated into residential developments. Besides providing obvious visual benefits of color and texture, natural areas improve air quality and filter impurities from storm water runoff. In the process, natural areas also help keep our homes from flooding by absorbing much of the impact of heavy rains.
Beyond these physical benefits, natural areas give us wonderful places to play and explore-reducing stress and encouraging relaxation. Young and old alike can delight in watching animals at play, smelling native wildflowers, and listening to the peaceful sounds of running water or singing birds.
While open spaces offer opportunities for communing with nature or engaging in active sports, bike and pedestrian trails provide safe areas for walking, jogging, biking, and skating.
Trails also keep neighborhoods connected. Children don't need rides to visit friends living in other parts of the community, and walking or biking become viable alternatives to traveling by car.
In addition to the popular 2.5-mile Waubonsie Trail winding from Violet Patch Park to Eagle Ridge Disc Golf Course, past the Chesterfield Skate Park and up to Jaycee Park, the 3.14-mile Fox River Trail extension connects Oswego with communities all along the Fox River. This scenic riverfront ride can provide spectacular views of native wildlife and plants along the Fox. Like natural communities, human communities thrive when people are given lots of opportunities to connect.
Good for Water Quality
Although the Fox River Trail was built for humans, the construction process was also designed to improve water quality in the Fox River. Re-introducing native plants along the banks is helping to control erosion, thereby reducing silt downstream. A cleaner river produces higher quality fish, making the Fox more attractive to predators, including great blue herons, egrets, and the eagles that visit near Violet Patch Park each winter. Fish and bird populations in the Waubonsie Creek have already improved markedly since the fall of 1999, when the park district installed fish-friendly improvements and removed the damaged dam.
In the Farmington Lakes subdivision (on Douglas Road just north of the Heritage development), the lake shoreline has been planted with high-quality native plantings. By slowing erosion and filtering runoff, these plants will help improve the lake's water quality. Once the development is completed, the Oswegoland Park District will care for this popular fishing lake.
Erosion was at one time a problem along Morgan Creek. A process called de-channelization was part of the subdivision development in establishing the Morgan Creek Prairie Wetland. In the first phase of the process, the banks of the creek were cut back to restore the gentle slopes of a natural waterway. Deep-rooted native plants were then planted to help slow runoff and keep topsoil in place. In addition to providing habitat area for native plants and animals, the Morgan Creek Prairie/Wetland serves the storm water management and flood control requirements of the Deerpath Creek subdivision.
Good for Your Wallet
Trees don't go to school, and birds don't call 911. In other words, natural areas don't place demands on a community's public service providers. If we figure in the cost for education, police and fire service, water and sewer lines, street construction and plowing, and garbage collection, it's often cheaper for communities to acquire and preserve open space than to allow it to be developed into new homes. On the flip side, public open space increases property values and adds to an area's economy by making it more attractive to new residents and businesses. Because one of a municipality's prime sources of funds is the real estate property tax, and because protected open space increases the value of the surrounding land, it is in the public's best economic interest to preserve open space.
A growing body of evidence indicates that the presence of open space in and around residential developments significantly increases property values. In Dayton Ohio, for example, proximity to an arboretum added 5% to the selling price of homes, and proximity to the park and river added 7.35%. In Seattle, homes near the 12-mile Burke Gilman trail sell for 6% more than other homes of like size further from the trail. By contrast, residential demand for services always exceeds the tax revenue generated by new housing. Impact fees and increased tax revenue just can't offset the actual cost of servicing these homes.
Open space is even less expensive to care for than developed parks--no grass to mow, no trash containers to empty, no playground equipment or facilities to paint and repair regularly. Other than prescribed burning or occasional weed control, natural areas can be left to nature. Compared with the cost of caring for a neighborhood park, natural areas save Oswegoland Park District taxpayers approximately $1300 per acre every year.
Caring for Rivers and Streams [back]
When the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and state environmental agencies were formed over 25 years ago, rivers all over the country were terribly polluted. More than once the evening news featured a river so clogged with trash and other waste products that it had caught fire. Our own Fox River suffered severe damage from industrial waste flows and untreated sewage. Many fish couldn't survive, and those that did were often malformed or riddled with tumors. Area fishermen saw firsthand the toll that pollution took on even the heartiest species of fish.
Fortunately, times have changed--laws and regulations have eliminated overt pollution and rivers like the Fox run strong and clear. Although the Fox is not clean enough for humans to drink, it is free of heavy metals and many other toxic substances. Most importantly, the Fox can once again support a large variety of healthy fish.
More Work Ahead
Although we have taken major steps toward restoring our nation's rivers, the job is far from finished. Like a tree, a river will only thrive if its trunk is fed by healthy branches. In other words, a river is only as healthy as the ditches, creeks and feeder streams that empty into its bed. In order to keep our rivers healthy for future generations, we must re-establish a healthy upstream ecology. We need to undo some of our early mistakes in managing water flow and drainage, and we need to find new ways of protecting our feeder streams.
Early Water Management
When the first landowners settled in our region, they drained wet areas by opening outlets for water to run off. Later they installed drain tile systems, including the ditches and channels that you see throughout our community today. This process of draining and channeling helped eliminate swampy areas and their populations of insects thought to carry diseases. By enabling water to drain more quickly, these early water management systems also helped create some of the most productive farmland in the world
Dams began to play an important role in water management once growing communities sought to harness the power of water for manufacturing enterprises. Many upriver towns, including Montgomery and Aurora developed around water-powered mills. In Oswego a dam provided the energy to run both a gristmill and sawmill for a furniture factory. After the discovery of electricity, newer dams were installed to tap the potential of hydroelectric power.
Although dams served as important sources of energy for early manufacturers, we now know that they are not good for the ecological health of our rivers. Because dams slow the flow of water, they collect silt, and cause water to get too warm for some aquatic plants and animals. Dams also prevent the natural migration of fish.
We also know that the drainage systems used to improve the land inadvertently damaged our area's rivers by promoting erosion. They helped water move off the land quickly, instead of allowing it to soak in and work its way through a natural filter of plants on its way to area waterways. As a result, the fast-moving water picked up a great deal of topsoil, which it funneled directly into our rivers, lakes and streams. Because fast-moving water is more likely to cause flooding, the problems caused by early drainage systems have only gotten more severe as modern development has expanded our acres of paved surfaces. Today, we have fewer undeveloped areas where our water can filter naturally to feeder streams and rivers. Much of the runoff from our streets and sidewalks carries oil, fertilizer and other chemicals into our waterways.
Fortunately, communities like ours are starting to listen to cutting--edge engineers and land planners who advocate restoring channels and ditches to a more natural state-a process called de-channelization. These experts advise recreating the gently-sloping sides and curves of natural drainage pathways in order to restore runoff patterns to the way they were before channels were dug. Because water moves more slowly through these "new" natural areas, the restoration process solves many of our most severe environmental problems. In particular, the process minimizes erosion, reduces silt deposits, and helps keep flooding under control.
Because land planners also understand the important role that wetlands play in water management, federal regulations have been created to protect the nation's remaining wetlands from being filled or drained. In addition, open space agencies are making wetland restoration one of their major goals, and developers are creating new wetlands as a way of dealing with runoff in subdivisions. The wetland areas in the Lakeview Estates and Deerpath Creek neighborhoods are examples of this trend right here at home. For more about wetlands in residential areas, click here.
History will recall these next few years as the era when small dams disappeared from the landscape. In states from Maine to Washington, communities are removing old dams once used to power factories and generators. Not only are these dams becoming unsafe as they age, they continue to harm fish populations and overall stream health.
During the summer of 1999, the Oswegoland Park District removed the Waubonsie Creek dam, which dated back to the 1930s. The dam was severely damaged in the 1996 flood. Funding assistance for the dam removal project came from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The funding also enabled the Park District to restore the creek to its original pre-dam state. Because the Waubonsie Creek is a spawning area for redhorse and small mouth bass, these funding agencies expect the "fish friendly" features of the project to strengthen the fish population of the Fox River.
In 2010, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers partnered with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to restore fish passages along with Waubonsie Creek by removing old man-made dams at Stonegate Park and at Fox Bend Golf Course.
You Can Help
Actions you can take in your own yard can help guarantee that future generations will have clean rivers and a good water supply. In particular, you should avoid overusing fertilizer and weed control chemicals on your lawns and gardens, and you should try not to spill oil, antifreeze or other fluids on your streets or driveway. With the next big rain, all of these toxins wash into the storm sewers, and ultimately into our rivers and streams.
If you live near a lake or a stream, you should also take steps to protect that waterway from the effects of erosion. Soil and debris that washes away from your property muddies the adjacent waters and ultimately ends up as a silt problem for someone downstream. If your property is subject to flooding, try to make sure that you keep that your land free from anything that could wash away.
Support Local Conservation
One more important way that you can help improve river health is to support local efforts to acquire or preserve existing river, stream, and wetland corridors. You can also support efforts to reestablish drainage ways and wetlands that have been eliminated or modified in the past. New development regulations under consideration by the Village of Oswego place strong emphasis on preserving existing wetlands as new neighborhoods are constructed. These regulations also encourage new engineering practices designed to modify or eliminate channels and restore natural drainage patterns in the more established parts of town. In a related effort, the Village of Montgomery is studying a development plan that will re-create a large wetland along the Waubonsie Creek. Not only will this project dramatically improve the creek's water quality, it will also substantially reduce the creek's propensity to flood.
Because an important part of the Oswegoland Park District's mission is to acquire, preserve and maintain natural areas, we study each new development plan carefully. We focus not only on how to provide neighborhood parks that are functional and accessible, but also on protecting and preserving natural features, like the waterways we all enjoy. Your willingness to share in our efforts to help keep our creeks and streams clean, and your support of local efforts to improve water quality will help protect these important resources for future generations. Thanks for all you do to help us care for our rivers and streams.