Published Online Nov 27, 2002
By KATE CLEMENTS
News-Gazette Capitol Bureau Chief
SPRINGFIELD - A nature preserve near Savoy and some rare orchids being threatened by invasive plant species in Vermilion County are among the beneficiaries of state conservation grants announced Tuesday.
The Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District received $225,100 to protect an 80-acre tract attached to the Barnhart Prairie Restoration Area from future development.
The wildlife preserve is 3 miles east of Savoy and is typical of the prairie that used to dominate the landscape in Champaign County, said Leon Wendte, district conservationist with the United States Department of Agriculture natural resources conservation service.
Purchasing a permanent conservation easement on the 80 acres to expand the nature preserve is just the first step, Wendte said.
The goal is for the site to look like Meadowbrook Park in south Urbana, with a natural prairie , paths, research areas, education areas and places that are left untouched, he said.
“It will probably take 10 years to develop this into the kind of facility that we want to have,” Wendte said.
The Vermilion County Soil and Water Conservation District received $6,000 to remove and control some non-native plant and animal species that are threatening orchids and other rare plants and habitats in some areas along the Middle Fork River.
The grant will be used for about 150 acres in Kickapoo State Park, Kennekuk County Park and the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area, said Kevin Green, chairman of the Vermilion River Ecosystem Partnership.
The Vermilion County Soil and Water Conservation District also got a $300,000 grant for the North Fork Vermilion River Habitat Enhancement Project near Alvin.
The money will be used to purchase a conservation easement on 100 acres near Jordan Creek, protecting it from future development. The purchase will expand the total protected area there to 800 acres, but none of it is open to the public, Green said.
“There is not much native habitat left in Illinois anymore,” he said.
“This project is actually a pilot of project of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and they targeted this specific area in the whole state because of the diversity of species in that area, especially in the rivers and the streams.”
The grants are all part of the state's Conservation 2000 program and were among $3.8 million distributed Tuesday.
“Conservation 2000 has been successful in large part because local citizens and private property owners are dedicated to working together to improve their communities,” Gov. George Ryan said.