Dry summer doesn't hinder wetlands
HOMER LAKE – Right now, the wetlands at this forest preserve aren't all that wet, after one of the driest summers in recent years.
But there are signs that Homer Lake Wetland, in its first year at the preserve south of St. Joseph, is changing.
Among the signs: shorebirds and 35 species of wetlands plants in what was once a farm, then a state tree nursery and, more recently, paths and prairies along the Salt Fork.
For Dan Olson, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District's natural resources director, change is good. Different species of flora and fauna will flourish in different conditions.
The 1.5-acre wetlands complex project has funding from the district, as well as a $9,700 grant last summer from the National Association of Counties Five-star Restoration Challenge Grant Program, for which Olson credits state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, with an assist.
Much of the work was done by volunteers, Olson said, including Grand Prairie Friends.
Olson said the wetlands complex will provide beneficial habitat for wildlife, help control floodwaters and provide an outdoor classroom for the district.
Wetlands can remove, break down or transform many of the pollutants in water that harm aquatic life in streams, rivers and lakes.
First, district workers and volunteers have to remove invasive species, which include autumn olive, planted in the 1960s when the area was a nursery to fix nitrogen in the soil, and multiflora rose, planted to provide habitat.
The project has several "ephemeral" ponds, full of water only part of the year, which some amphibians and insects need to breed, and where some bird species prefer to forage.
Last week, there wasn't much water in them, but site superintendent Brian Taylor was able to spot some new sedges – marsh plants that look like grass except for angular stems.
He also looked for American Indian arrowheads, which have been found all over the forest preserve.
Ephemeral ponds, which can appear and disappear depending on the amount of rainfall, nurtured tadpoles and frogs this spring.
The new ones mimic old buffalo wallows, depressions made as bison rolled in dust, or mud when it was wet, which compacted the soil and slowed drainage.
The area also includes an "artificial hibernaculum" for mammals, lizards and insects to overwinter.
Workers put in old drainage tiles and tubes to provide holes and tunnels for digging animals, then covered them with river stones.
Next to come are basking logs, which will be tethered to the bottom, providing a place for frogs to bask and dine on the plentiful flying insects of Homer Lake.
Future plans include native prairie and tree plantings in the area.