There once was a time when Illinois was 98 percent prairie land, but population growth and economic development have reduced that percentage down to the paltry 2 percent it is today.
On Monday and Tuesday in Aurora, students from Waubonsie Valley High School worked in conjunction with professionals from the Fox Valley Park District to begin the restoration process of bringing the land around a local lake back to its natural state.
Natural areas specialist for the Fox Valley Park District Cathy Daul led a group of high schools students from Waubonsie on a two-day planting exercise around Waubonsie Lake Park in an effort to plant 3,000 plugs of at least 30 native species of plants. The project was first conceived about two years ago, Daul said, when she was approached by Carl Armstrong, a science teacher at the high school.
“Students were involved back then in a little prairie area at the time, and I proposed the idea about having students come out and help with a larger project,” Daul said. “We conducted a prescribed burn around the lake area, and noticed there was a lot of interest.”
Daul said for some time, native plants have been raised in greenhouses at the Park District. When the plants became too plentiful, the Park District began making regular deliveries to the high school, where students continued to raise them in the school’s greenhouse.
“Those plants have been divided and will be used as plugs, and we also planted the seeds after the burn because the ground was warm, which helps the germination process,” Daul said. “These plants are important because it helps return the area to its natural state and attracts the necessary pollinators and birds as well as helping to stabilize the soil. A lot of people put these ‘ornamental’ plants around their house, but they don’t benefit the wildlife that seeks the natural vegetation.”
Students began working Monday around 8:30 a.m. and worked until about 2:30 and planned to have a similar work schedule Tuesday.
“This gives students first-hand knowledge to apply what they have learned and without seeing the project, they wouldn’t understand as well how this all works,” Armstrong said. “The idea is that each student is allowed to take action and adds something important to the community.”
Armstrong added that “science is always changing” and prairie restoration itself continues to evolve.
“The science that these students’ parents’ learned has changed,” he said. “These students are learning you can restore things in a way maybe others didn’t know about and they can already see the outcomes from the work that has been done earlier.”
Alyssa Yee, a 17-year-old senior from Naperville, said she was a member of Armstrong’s senior AP Biology class and that the project provided her “with a fun way to hang out with friends as well as help the environment.”
“Hopefully there will be parts of this dirty lake that get cleaned up and even though I am graduating this year, it will be fun to come back and see this in a year or so and see the changes that have taken place,” she said. “This is better than a classroom experience.”
Dan Arbid, also 17 and a member of the AP class, said workers had no trouble staying on task and the diverse grass and vegetation will help maintain the area.
“We do need to invest in the environment and take care of it,” he said.