Illinois Audubon Society helps protect land in Will County

In May 2018 a large and diverse forest complex near Joliet, known as Pilcher Park, was dedicated as a Nature Preserve by the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. The dedication culminates a nearly four-year effort by the Illinois Audubon Society, Joliet Park District, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, and Illinois Nature Preserves Commission to expand and protect one of northeastern Illinois’ premier woodlands. The dedication protects in perpetuity, 293 acres as Nature Preserve and an additional 110 acres as a Land and Water Reserve at the site. The park is owned and managed by the Joliet Park District and features outstanding spring wildflower displays and old-growth trees.

“More than 270 native plant species have been documented within Pilcher Park, and at least 11 species of birds with moderate to high sensitivity to habitat fragmentation breed on site,” said Rita Renwick, Will County Audubon Society. “The successful completion of this project was the result of a government-private partnership project that lasted several years and was aided by a private foundation.”

In September 2014, the Illinois Audubon Society applied for a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to purchase 80 acres of privately owned property adjacent to the park’s north boundary, with the intention of transferring the property to the Joliet Park District in the future. Achieving permanent protection for the high quality resources at the site was a condition of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation funding. The property transfer between the Society and the Park District was completed in August 2017 and expanded the park to 403 total acres in size.

Dennis O’Brien, Executive Director of Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, notes that several factors contributed to the success of this project including the expertise provided by the Illinois Audubon Society’s former director, Tom Clay, and local Will County Audubon Society Volunteers, a commitment by the Joliet Park District to permanently protect habitat and guidance from the knowledgeable staff of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. “The Foundation is pleased to have helped make the permanent protection of Pilcher Park a reality,” said O’Brien.

Pilcher Park is a well-established urban natural area, with miles of hiking trails and roads, outdoor recreation and a nature center with many park district-sponsored activities and education programs. Allowable uses on designated trails throughout both the Nature Preserve and Land and Water Reserve include hiking, nature observation, bicycling, cross-country skiing and walking leashed dogs.

Kim Roman, Field Representative with the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission commented, “these uses support the mission of the Joliet Park District by engaging children and adults with nature and are compatible with the long-term preservation of Pilcher Park. Future management and stewardship of this park will promote the high-quality natural communities and resources of statewide significance.”

“Pilcher Park was conveyed to the City of Joliet in 1920 by Robert and Nora Pilcher, with the stipulation that it be left in its ‘wild and natural state’,” added Katie Zaban, Superintendent of the Pilcher Park Nature Center.” The inclusion of this site in the Illinois Nature Preserves System formalizes that wish and is a fitting tribute to the Pilchers.”

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