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1993 Proceedings of the Midwest Oak Savanna Conferences1993 Proceedings of the Midwest Oak Savanna Conferences



Stephen Christy
Lake Forest Open Lands Project
560 N. Oakwood, Suite 103
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
Tel: (708) 234-3880


The Middle Fork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois is a key component of the Open Lands Project area greenways plan and the Lake County Forest Preserve District's local trail system. It is also, however, a 500-acre conservation jewel, harboring a remnant black-soil savanna considered to be one of the finest in the United States.

While the rare savanna has attracted the most attention, other large sections of the Middle Fork site also display high natural quality. The challenge will be to restore the entire site rapidly so that these high quality "islands" may begin to expand and reclaim the system.


The Middle Fork Savanna Restoration Plan, as proposed by Lake Forest Open Lands and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) consists of two parts: 1) a lease and management agreement, and 2) a work plan for the land. The goal is to restore the Middle Fork Savanna of Lake County, Illinois as the finest possible conservation area, using the best talent and the widest array of funding sources in a pilot/joint venture. The objectives are:

  • Rapid, large-scale, "broad-brush" restoration of landscapes;
  • Maximum public involvement through extensive volunteer efforts; and,
  • Cost-sharing, with each partner providing the most valuable skills.

Under the proposed plan, the Forest Preserve District of Lake County (FPD) will lease the Middle Fork Savanna to Lake Forest Open Lands and TNC. Open Lands and TNC will agree to organize and run a volunteer program to restore the most sensitive land areas, and coordinate, bid, and supervise contract work for land clearing and restoration in other areas. Open Lands and TNC will jointly raise $100,000 per year for this work, to be matched by the FPD in a pooled fund administered by Open Lands and TNC, subject to audit at any time. The lease will be for a ten year period and will be renewable.

The FPD will provide summer youth crews to help maintain the site, and will design and construct all parking, toilet facilities, boardwalks, and security fencing. All trails will initially be wood chipped and elevated through wet areas. The FPD may elect to add a stone surface to the trail at a later date and at its own expense. Finally, the FPD will provide ongoing land management funding for Open Lands and TNC to care for this project once initial restoration work is done. This arrangement is similar to one already in effect in Cook County, where the Forest Preserve District provides The Nature Conservancy, on behalf of the Volunteer Stewardship Network, $75,000 per year to care for six sites.

As much work as possible will be done "in house" by the three parties, by volunteers, or by in-kind services which the three parties will aggressively market to the Lake County business community through the work bidding process.

The concept of the plan itself is simple. It considers the Middle Fork Savanna as a quilt. Some squares are like new, while some need repair. The work proposed is basic, broad, and simple, and seeks to set the stage for the expansion of the landscape elements from the better parts of the quilt into more worn parts. Work envisioned includes:

  • The removal of weedy and non-native brush and trees, and the herbiciding of stumps and roots.
  • The collecting and planting of native grass and forb seeds, or, in the absence of species, cover crops to maintain soil stability. 
  • The rebuilding of two existing bridges over the drainage ditch, and the construction of a pedestrian walkway through an existing concrete bridge under the Soo Railroad Line.
  • The construction of a scenic overlook on the east abutment of the old Armour bridge over theSoo Line, and future consideration of a pedestrian bridge over the railroad at these abutments.
  • The removal or reshaping of spoil piles along the West Skokie Drainage Ditch to provide enhanced trail access and/or improved floodwater management and storage.
  • The converting of removed trees and shrubs into wood chips for rail use.
  • The breaking of drain tiles and filling of drainage ditches to restore former wetlands.
  • The monitoring of the effect of the above on the area's plants and wildlife, including baseline surveys of birds, insects, plants, reptiles, and amphibians.

It is expected that the initial restoration work will take three years. Open Lands and The Nature Conservancy will train and supervise all volunteers in the safe use of tools and herbicides during this period, and during the much longer maintenance and management term to follow.

The maintenance and management term will encompass the following work:

  • Trail mowing, reseeding, and rechipping. It is expected that public trail use will be limited to hiking and skiing until the application of a hard trail surface for horses, bicycles, or other uses that would damage a grass or wood chip surface.
  • Mowing of meadows and savanna areas as needed to control large invasions of early succession, annual or biennial weeds.
  • Selected broadleaf herbicide use, particularly on larger areas currently invaded by purple loosestrife.
  • Selected herbicide use on resprouting stumps and brush.
  • Continual collecting and planting of native grass and flower seeds.
  • Monitoring and, if necessary, planting enrichment of newly created wetlands.
  • Regular prairie and savanna burning of the entire preserve on a schedule approved by all parties.

The FPD will be responsible for ranger surveillance, trash pickup, and parking lot control (including snow removal in winter) during all phases of this project.


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