By Douglas Chien, Powderhorn Site Steward
Contained within Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve is a very special and rare place, a place with an exciting ecological restoration project happening soon. A project that myself and a team of volunteers have worked towards for the past 10-years.
Powderhorn Prairie Nature Preserve is the only Illinois Nature Preserve within the City of Chicago and is a rare dune and swale ecosystem; low sand dunes separated by wetlands. Dune and swale once covered much of the southern end of Lake Michigan before European settlement and subsequent industrialization. At Powderhorn, you can experience a landscape utilized by Native Americans but then seen as wasteland by later residents. Today, one can stand on a dune and be in a high quality sand prairie then walk 20’ and be knee deep in a high quality wetland.
Along the first sand dune, past soil disturbance, the absence of ecological stewardship, and especially the lack of prescribed fire, allowed eastern cottonwood trees (Populus deltoides) to get established and grow to maturity. With a canopy of large cottonwood trees, the once rich layer of grasses, sedges, and flowers died out. Fortunately the remaining six sand ridges remained healthy and continue to provide homes for a variety of insects, butterflies, and other animals.
Thanks to support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program about 300 large cottonwood trees will be cut down. With proper structure restored, the area will be seeded with flowers, grasses and sedges collected on site. Over the next several years we expect to see a healthy mix of native plants and corresponding wildlife return. We’ll also be vigilant about stopping invasive plants from gaining command of the area.
This is a highly visible project as the area being cleared is along Brainard Ave. A well traveled route between Indiana and the Hegewisch neighborhood. The Forest Preserves of Cook County have been a valuable partner in this project, providing technical support and additional funding.
Volunteer stewardship days are the 3rd Saturday of the month from 9 am till Noon. Drop me a line if you’ve any questions or would like to come out and help. Special thanks to my fellow Site Steward Alice and our regular crew: Matt, Jay, Oliver, Tom, and Nik.