Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards
The Poplar Creek Forest Preserve in Hoffman Estates is a special site, with rich remnant woodlands and a rare gravel hill prairie along Shoe Factory Road. But in the late 1980s, when the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards got their start, much of the landscape still held abandoned agricultural fields and farm homesteads. Working with the Forest Preserve District, this dedicated volunteer group has worked on the ground and in the soil to restore native ecosystems, ranging from tallgrass prairies to wetlands, to much of the site. Their efforts have seen native plants, birds, and animals return and thrive in these healthy and diverse settings. More than 300 acres are under management, not including Shoe Factory Nature Preserve.
Since 1989, the Prairie Stewards have given more than 3,500 hours annually to help with restoration efforts, according to volunteer site steward John Navin. They’ve been organizing weekly workdays since the beginning. Poplar Creek’s restoration is important for threatened and endangered species including wooly milkweed. Grassland bird species have returned, including the bobolink, grasshopper sparrow, and Henslow’s sparrow. The preserve also provides direct benefits to neighboring communities by absorbing stormwater, providing clean air, and serving as a place for visitors of all ages to find rejuvenation.
In the last two years, the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards have been winning awards about as fast as medals are piling up this week in the Olympic Village. In 2009 they were recognized with a Conservation Leadership Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency and Chicago Wilderness. In 2010 they received the Grassroots Conservation Leadership Award from Audubon for the Poplar Creek Breeding Bird Blitz, as well as a leadership award from the Hanover Township Conservation and Native Landscaping Program. And just this past July, the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials bestowed its Conservation Award on the Poplar Creek Forest and Shoe Factory Woods Nature Preserve, recognizing an exceptional effort to restore a natural area. The Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards are an amazing group of volunteers whose dedication to the Poplar Creek Forest Preserve has helped make it the thriving ecosystem it is today.
In 2009, still more restoration began on native prairie and oak woodlands south of Golf Road, as part of the Schaumburg Grasslands project, guided by steward Steve Flexman.
There’s plenty more work to be done! For more information about the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards and to join in, visit their website. www.poplarcreekprairiestewards.org