In the far northwest corner of Cook County sits a natural wilderness that hums with life: Spring Lake Nature Preserve. A rich diversity of butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, tiger salamanders, birds, otters, beavers, rare shrews, owls, cranes, fish, mussels, insects, and other living things call this nature preserve home. Spring Creek, one of the most pristine streams in Northern Illinois, meanders through meadows and woodlands, spreads out into wetlands and lakes, and continues north, where it feeds into the Fox River. Chicago-area environmental group Openlands emphasizes that restoration of headwater sites — the habitats that form the origins of our region’s rivers and streams — impacts the health of sites downstream, making restoration projects at headwater sites a uniquely effective tool for broader ecological improvement. Healthy headwaters are instrumental in protecting downstream resources, water quality, and providing healthy habitat for countless plant and animal species.
A 2023 Oberweiler grant will provide funding to support such headwater work, building on earlier projects they funded in Spring Lake Nature Preserve. Invasive brush will be removed in an area along Spring Creek adjacent to an area restored previously. Removal of invasive species will allow native wetland vegetation to grow along the banks, thereby improving water infiltration, decreasing soil erosion into the waterway, and providing habitats for native endangered species.
The Forest Preserve Foundation and the Oberweiler Foundation have partnered in support of restoration in the Spring Creek headwater area since 2018. Beginning with Galloping Hill Fen, a rare and ecologically significant type of wetland community that drains into Spring Creek, restoration work removed the threat of encroaching brush in areas immediately adjacent to the highest quality portions of the wetland. The project directly contributed to improved habitat for the Hines Emerald Dragonfly, birds, and other wildlife at the fen. Additionally, by restoring native vegetation to Spring Creek’s riparian buffer, the project improves the quality of the water entering the creek.
In recent years, grants from the Oberweiler Foundation have supported restoration along the creek itself. In 2020-2021, restoration work reconnected two open wet-mesic prairie areas that were previously separated by a thicket of invasive buckthorn. Removing woody vegetation allowed the soil in this area to rehydrate and develop into a more functional wet-prairie that buffers the adjacent Spring Creek. It also allowed prairie insects and seeds to flow between two formally isolated prairie pockets more easily. Lastly, removing this brush improved the site’s aesthetic views, allowing visitors to see from the oak woodlands in the uplands across open marsh and wet-mesic prairie to Spring Lake.
Next time you venture into the gentle wilds of Spring Lake Nature Preserve in the northwest corner of Cook County for some peaceful solitude, you can carry the knowledge that this gem of nature is at work, improving water, air, and habitat health beyond what the eye can see. The Forest Preserve Foundation is grateful to the Oberweiler Foundation for their continued support of this ecologically impactful headwater restoration work in the Spring Lake Nature Area, and their longtime support of the Forest Preserve Foundation.