wetland has undergone an amazing transformation as restoration
encourages a rich array of flora and fauna
|McHenry and Lake
On a disappointingly chilly and overcast
day in late April, I was surprised to step into an amazingly
green, wet and expansive restored area, with chorus frogs
chanting everywhere, invisibly.
Take I-90 to Rte 31. Go north
on Rte 31 to Rte 14/Three Oaks Road. Turn east on
Rte 14. When the road branches, go left/north at Hickory
Nut Grove Road. The entrance to Lyons is on the right/east
side of the road.
To visit Hickory Grove Conservation
Area, continue north on Hickory Nut Grove Road. The
road jogs west, and the entrance to Hickory Grove
is about a quarter mile beyond, on the right/north
side of the road, with its own parking area.
A male and female sandhill crane, their
gray bodies tinged brown, loafed by a brush pile while four
more sandhills bugled overhead. A male bluebird zipped by,
electrically blue against the dark branches of bur oak.
A flicker called, and a woodpecker drummed in the distance.
This was Lyons Prairie and Marsh, unexpectedly
throbbing with phenomenal numbers of flora and fauna. Marsh
marigold, toothwort and rue anemone were blooming; May apples
and trout lily were on the verge. Vast sedge meadows burst
with tussock sedge and Joe Pye weed, and marshes answered
with bulrush and cattail. A rookery was already filled with
wetland birds cormorants, egrets, great blue herons
A gradual yet truly amazing transformation
has taken place here. When the Illinois Nature Preserves
Commission dedicated Lyons in 1982, the area contained some
of the highest quality wetlands remaining in Illinois. It
also contained old cornfields, brush and disturbed woodlands
left over from the Redmond Lyons farmstead and hunting preserve.
In 1990, the McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD)
implemented a careful plan of burning, cutting, brush clearing
and herbiciding to remove aggressive invasives and open
up habitat for natives to flourish. They left intact a spring
feeding one of the sedge meadows and opened up an additional
180 acres of meadow. John Peters, restoration technician
for the district, has guided the plan since 1993. His docket
includes further restoration of the property's woodlands
and drier uplands prairie.
With a rich array of 297 different plant
species (276 of which are natives that depend exclusively
on the types of habitats at Lyons) as well as 27 butterfly,
7 fish, 4 frog, 4 turtle, and 65 bird species, this area
is a rare treasure, and a not-to-be-missed treat. Butterflies
that might cross your path as you wander include the Baltimore
checkerspot, Dion skipper, northern-eyed brown, mulberry
wing and great spangled fritillary.
The entire prairie and marsh consists
of 440 acres, 300 of those in the nature preserve. Located
in the floodplain of the Fox River, most of the preserve
is too wet and fragile for trails. But there is a floating
boardwalk across the sedge meadow, and if you move quickly
enough, you can avoid having your feet drenched. Crayfish
mounds stud the area, and in the summer, cattails and bulrush
There is also a wet-mesic prairie here,
and restoration is currently underway. In August, big bluestem
and Indian grass will be eight feet tall. Volunteer stewards
lead groups that perform land management throughout the
preserve, and more volunteers are welcome. Call the Conservation
District at (815)338-6223.
The adjacent Hickory Grove Conservation
Area has equestrian and hiking trails that run into the
woodland section of Lyons Prairie and Marsh. This hillier
land consists of glacial knolls, moraines and savanna islands
of shagbark hickory, bur and white oaks.
MCCD education staff offer programs
throughout the year. On July 18, join an evening stroll
for families with children six years old and up, from 7:00
to 8:30 p.m. Registration is required. Call Prairieview
Education Center at (815) 479-5779. For more opportunities
to explore and learn, visit the MCCD Web site, www.mccdistrict.org.