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An oak opening lets sunlight stream through at Amboy Marsh Sanctuary northwest of Sublette. Illinois Audubon Society bought the site last year and is welcoming the public to come view it Sunday, Oct. 13.
What? Illinois Audubon Society welcomes the public to experience Amboy Marsh during a celebration and dedication. There will be tours, presentations and refreshments. When? 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13. Where? Amboy Marsh is off of U.S. 52 about 1 mile southeast of Amboy and 5 miles northwest of Sublette. Turn west onto Mormon Road and immediately look for the entrance on your left (south). You also can view a public map of Amboy Marsh created by the News Tribune on www.google.com.
AMBOY — The 272-acre nature sanctuary between Amboy and Sublette is a treasure chest of plants and animals. Sure, Amboy Marsh is home to endangered Blanding’s turtles. But there’s way more there that excites biologists and naturalists. Meadows are ringed with swamp thistle, blueberry and huckleberry. Sandhill cranes nest there and fringed gentians grow there. Illinois Audubon Society welcomes the public to view this preserve during a celebration from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday Oct. 13. There will be tours, presentations and refreshments. The 272-acre parcel in southeastern Lee County was purchased in December by the Audubon Society from Jerry and Christine Guanci, who owned it for 39 years. The Chicago couple had a “big time love affair” with the site, Christine Guanci said. “We just loved that when you went on the property, you were in a different world. You were back to nature,” she said. The couple stayed in a camper trailer or in the original farmhouse, she said. Audubon received the trailer to use on-site. In selling the property, the couple wasn’t so much giving it up as they were sharing it with the public, Christine Guanci said. “We know it’s going to stay relatively the same now and it’s not going to be changed much,” she said. “Somebody’s not going to come in with bulldozers and change everything. In a way it gives us a chance to go back and still enjoy it.” The Natural Area Guardians committee for Lee County Soil and Water Conservation District partnered with Audubon Society to purchase and protect the area. They got financial help from Chicago-based Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Grand Victoria Foundation to close on the $1.36 million purchase and to fund restoration and stewardship. The Birdsong Chapter of Illinois Audubon Society was formed to help manage and protect the area. The site remained closed after the purchase so Audubon and its partners could assess it, tear down some buildings, begin management and make it public-friendly. John and Cindy McKee, naturalists from Ottawa and members of Illinois Audubon Society, scoured the grounds for new discoveries, especially birds, dragonflies and butterflies. The McKees and others said they hope the swamp thistles attract the endangered swamp metalmark butterflies. On a recent outing, bush clover (nothing like the invasive, non-native clovers) was growing profusely in a black oak opening. “This bush clover is all over the place,” John McKee said. “It’s a good quality prairie plant.” Dick Todd, nature photographer from Princeton, has relied on the new sanctuary for many new “captures” of insects with his lens. “If I don’t get at least six new species (each visit) I’m surprised,” Todd said. The parcel’s sandy and marshy soil limited farming, thereby preserving its ecology. “It’s just fantastic,” said Deb Carey of the Natural Area Guardians. Carey has tried to preserve the site since the 1980s. The Audubon Society held work days and outings. Some outbuildings were demolished. The Guancis’ old trailer camper and a silo were salvaged. Trees and shrubs have been sprayed, cut or burned to reverse decades of fire suppression and to restore original prairie. “We accomplished a lot in the short term,” Carey said. Historical turtle nesting grounds were cleared of encroaching trees and turtles nested there this year, she said. The area’s richness also is attracting biologists from afar, Carey said. “We keep finding more and more unusual plants,” she said.