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Renewal: Disturbed land can return to natural state and we can learn a lot from the transformation

?UIS biology student Andy Grant and high school student Nick Boltuc wade through a thick stand of giant ragweed at the unrestored LaGrange refuge near Meredosia.
University of Illinois at Springfield

Illinois is striving to preserve and protect its last few wild places — even, occasionally, returning farmland to Nature. The Illinois River Valley and the Cache River Basin are two areas of the state rich in habitat and in various stages of restoration, regeneration

but overture to the symphony expected at Emiquon near Havana. The 7,100 acres in Fulton County will be turned from farmland to wetland, edged by upland prairie, blufftop savanna and bottomland forest. The conservancy’s scientists will help the process by planting trees and seeds, in some cases reintroducing native Illinois species. Ecologists will use the latest science and technology to record the changes in this large-scale restoration, which will function as a model for other floodplain restorations throughout the world.

or preservation. Scientists, students and citizens with a passion for the natural world have been playing a part in their renewal. The Nature Conservancy, working with state and federal

agencies, is restoring the vast floodplains along the Illinois River. It has transformed Spunky Bottoms in Brown County into a thriving wetland landscape, including a replanted bottomland hardwood forest and a reseeded upland prairie. Once drained and farmed, the 2,026-acre site now is home to one of the most abundant populations of northern cricket frogs in the state. In the spring, more than 16,000 waterfowl rest and eat in its waters during migration. Uncommon species such as river otters and American bitterns also call it home. 

Wetland grass emerges from standing water at Emiquon.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
Wetland grass emerges from standing water at Emiquon.

Unique to Illinois, though, is a companion project led by a team at the Illinois Natural History Survey. In the spirit of the Lewis and Clark exploration, entomologist Mike Jeffords enlisted 45 citizens to be an Emiquon Corps of Discovery. Trained in photography, descriptive writing, poetry, drawing and painting, they record their observations to create a “total aesthetic picture” of Emiquon as it regenerates. Each year’s work is displayed at Dickson Mounds Museum. This year, a second, 29-member Cache River Corps
of Discovery is artistically documenting that biological diversity. 

A migrating egret forages for food at Emiquon.
Credit Kevin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
A migrating egret forages for food at Emiquon.

But Spunky Bottoms and similar restorations at Lake Chautauqua and Hennepin-Hopper Lakes are

The Editors 

Moonrise over Spunky Bottoms inspires a chorus of animal songs.
Credit University of Illinois at Springfield
/
University of Illinois at Springfield
Moonrise over Spunky Bottoms inspires a chorus of animal songs.
A UIS student holds a bryozoan living in the LaGrange refuge waters.
Credit University of Illinois at Springfield
/
University of Illinois at Springfield
A UIS student holds a bryozoan living in the LaGrange refuge waters.
Citizen scientist Margaret Ovitt with the Emiquon Corps of Discovery recorded observations during restoration.
Credit Margaret Ovitt / Illinois Natural History Survey
/
Illinois Natural History Survey
Citizen scientist Margaret Ovitt with the Emiquon Corps of Discovery recorded observations during restoration.
Sunset over an Emiquon backwater near Dickson Mounds highlights the potential of the 7,100-acre preserve to return to its natural state.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
Sunset over an Emiquon backwater near Dickson Mounds highlights the potential of the 7,100-acre preserve to return to its natural state.
Emiquon backwater plants glow at sunrise.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
Emiquon backwater plants glow at sunrise.
A red-tailed hawk keeps an eye on intruders at Emiquon.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
A red-tailed hawk keeps an eye on intruders at Emiquon.
As the pumps fall silent in the cornfields, the waters of Emiquon rise, illustrating the ease of conversion.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
As the pumps fall silent in the cornfields, the waters of Emiquon rise, illustrating the ease of conversion.
Canada geese take flight from Emiquon.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
Canada geese take flight from Emiquon.
Three pairs of Canada geese feed in the shallow water.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
Three pairs of Canada geese feed in the shallow water.
Last fall, as water filled the fields at Emiquon, thousands of waterfowl stopped to rest and feed.
Credit Doug Blodgett / ©The Nature Conservancy
/
©The Nature Conservancy
Last fall, as water filled the fields at Emiquon, thousands of waterfowl stopped to rest and feed.
Russell Clendenin, Rend Lake Community College instructors and Cache River Corps of Discovery member, captured the colors of these water plants near the Barkhausen Wetlands Center in Johnson County.
Credit Russell Clendenin / Illinois Natural History Survey
/
Illinois Natural History Survey
Russell Clendenin, Rend Lake Community College instructors and Cache River Corps of Discovery member, captured the colors of these water plants near the Barkhausen Wetlands Center in Johnson County.
A fleet of ducks sail effortlessly in a drainage ditch, created for previous farming operations.
Credit Kelvin Sampson / Dickson Mounds Museum
/
Dickson Mounds Museum
A fleet of ducks sail effortlessly in a drainage ditch, created for previous farming operations.
Emiquon Corps of Discovery sketch artist Margaret Ovitt notes animal behavior.
Credit Margaret Ovitt / Illinois Natural History Survey
/
Illinois Natural History Survey
Emiquon Corps of Discovery sketch artist Margaret Ovitt notes animal behavior.
Jan Sundberg, a Cache River Corps of Discovery photographer, catches a toad resting on leaves.
Credit Jan Sundberg / Illinois Natural History Survey
/
Illinois Natural History Survey
Jan Sundberg, a Cache River Corps of Discovery photographer, catches a toad resting on leaves.

ADVICE

Poem by Deane Doolen Emiquon Corps of Discovery 

NJOY the 

AJESTY and 

NSPIRATION and 

UINTESSENCE of this 

NIQUE

BSERVATION of 

ATURE

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