MAHOMET — A group of avid users of a large section of Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet is upset about the way dozens of trees have been removed this year without any notification or discussion.
The group hopes to voice its displeasure at a meeting of the forest preserve board at 6 p.m. today at the Izaak Walton Cabin at Lake of the Woods.
"The clear-cutting and the disregard for mature, healthy trees has been going on for several years. But this massive destruction this year is just awful. This is the worst ever," said Linda Case of Mahomet, a frequent user of the Buffalo Trace Prairie at Lake of the Woods, located west of Illinois 47. "It's like listening to a Joni Mitchell song. I think this is what finally instigated people to act."
Jeff Riddle, who estimates that he has run more than 30,000 miles at the prairie area since moving to Mahomet in 1984, said he believes the forest preserve district should have done a better job of keeping its customers informed.
"I'm a facilities person. I'm a planner," said Riddle, also of Mahomet, who works at the University of Illinois' Housing Division. "For me the bottom line is why didn't you at least tell people about this, not that you're going to change your mind. But if you have a good plan and you believe in your plan, you should take whatever criticism comes. But if you believe in it, you'll still do it. But you might want to see what other people say.
"I think they just missed the opportunity to do some good public relations. I think they're finding out that they sort of blew it."
Jerry Pagac, the director of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, said Wednesday that he thinks the agency should have kept the park's users in the loop about the tree-cutting.
"I have to admit that we fell down in that regard. For whatever reason we did not do that," he said. "We usually prepare a flier or something so that if somebody walks by they can understand what is going on."
That, Pagac said, is what the agency did several years ago when it cut down 50 or so Callery pear trees on the east side of Illinois 47.
It's the offspring of those trees that are being felled this year.
"That stuff is so incredibly invasive," Pagac said. "The seed is spread and everything germinates and the trees grow as close together as cornstalks. With other trees you never get a thicket like these produce. It is literally an impenetrable thicket when it gets going.
"What has happened is, we think that from those forest trees that were planted, their progeny is all over the place. So we're systematically trying to eradicate that tree from the preserve. It's a pretty daunting task."
The long-range plan for Buffalo Trace, he said, is to turn parts of it into native prairie.
"Our goal is to let people see what the grand prairie, our region here, was like at one time," he said.
But the heat and drought this summer is making things worse for the forest preserve district, Pagac said. Large piles of tree limbs and debris remain in the open fields, calling more attention to the tree-clearing.
"I can understand why people are scratching their heads, saying what are those people doing?" he said. "The timing couldn't be worse with this kind of heat. People out there on the trails want shade and here we are out there cutting trees. I understand their frustration.
"This is something we've been doing for several years and this is the first time we've gotten a reaction. We were wondering why is that. We think part of it is that in past years as we've taken trees down, we can burn them right away and get rid of them. But this year with the drought conditions we have we're not going to do any burning. That's made it much more noticeable."
Case said she believes some mature trees at Buffalo Trace should have been allowed to remain.
"Yes there were non-native trees and that was the issue. But our feeling was at least leave the mature trees," she said. "They had nests in them. There were Baltimore orioles out there and now they're gone. There were Eastern kingbirds in another tree up on a hill and now that tree is gone. So they've shown no respect at all that it's habitat for birds."
Riddle, who runs and walks in the park nearly every morning before 6 a.m., said he misses the trees along the running trails.
"There's a place we call Goat Mountain. And when you get up there, there used to be a few trees that gave you some shade," he said. "But now they're completely gone. It's a bit depressing."
Both Case and Riddle stressed that they love the park and appreciate the forest preserve district.
"We love that park and we definitely want to work with the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. It's just that we feel we've been ignored and that people's concerns have basically been set aside and not addressed," Case said.
"I love the park. I love the trails. But please let us know first. If you believe in the plan don't be afraid to tell people about it," Riddle said.