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Josh Meggers of Dow City, Iowa, cuts buckhorn and honeysuckle branches Tuesday at Dayton Bluffs, a forested tract along the Fox River near Ottawa. Meggers along with others from the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa will spend the week here removing invasive species as a first step in managing the 253-acre preserve.
NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
The purchase of Dayton Bluffs was funded by Grand Victoria Foundation, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Hamill Family Foundation. About $150,000 in grants and donations are needed for restoration. There will be open houses and volunteer work days from 9 a.m. to noon on the first Saturdays of the next four months, which are Jan. 4, Feb. 1, March 1 and April 5. Access is off the west side of Route 71 just north of Hank’s restaurant on the east side of Ottawa. No reservations are required for the open house. To volunteer for restoration work contact Jennifer Hammer at email@example.com.
OTTAWA — As lunch break ended, the crew of 17 donned protective gear — safety glasses, helmets, chaps, gloves, hearing protection — and fired up their chainsaws.
The woodland jumped alive with buzzing saws, orange flames and plumes of smoke. Workers moved around with handheld tanks to spray herbicide on freshly-cut stumps.
Tuesday was day-two of the team’s weeklong effort to rid Dayton Bluffs Preserve of non-native plants along the forest edge.
“The buckthorn is everywhere,” said Jennifer Hammer, land restoration and watershed specialist with The Conservation Foundation.
The 253-acre preserve stretches along the east side of the Fox River south of Interstate 80 and west of Route 71. Three-quarters is forest and one-fourth is farm field. For decades it was heralded for high-quality plant life, unique geology and archeological sites.
In July, The Conservation Foundation, a not-for-profit organization out of Naperville, purchased the property for $2.1 million.
The woodland supports many kinds of oaks including Chinquapin. Bald eagles use the riverside forest as a roost in winter. Barred owls and pileated woodpeckers thrive here. There is probably more, Hammer said.
“We’re still trying to get to know the property,” Hammer said.
This week The Conservation Foundation teamed up with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota & Iowa to take first crack at restoring and managing the site’s ecology.
Josh Meggers is a crew leader from Dow City, Iowa. He has spent much of this year in all kinds of parks and natural areas, some operated by the National Park and U.S. Fish and Wildlife services, he said.
“It’s really good experience,” Meggers said.
The crew is seasoned, nearing the end of a nine-month detail throughout the Midwest. They are familiar with ecological restoration’s first line of battle, killing invasive species with saws, flames and chemicals.
Jordan Richardson, 20, of Des Moines tended a brush fire with coworkers to get one more blast of warmth before heading back to work.
“We’ve been mostly focused on cutting down the honeysuckle and buckthorn and spraying the stumps to prevent re-sprouts,” he said.
Buckthorn and honeysuckle can smother a forest floor with shade, choking out shorter, native wildflowers, Hammer said. The cut shrubbery was piled in mounds and set ablaze.
“We’re working on the edge because that’s where the buckthorn and honeysuckle is thickest,” Hammer said.
Eventually, but not this week, occasional fires will be set to sweep through the woodland.
“It really helps to invigorate the native stuff,” Hammer said.
The foundation intends to plant native grasses and trees in the fields, where tests revealed soil that originally supported forest.
The Conservation Foundation will own and manage the site’s ecology while leasing it as a public park to the city of Ottawa, which will maintain access and facilities. The property likely will get annexed into city and allow recreation such as hiking, biking, bird watching and picnicking.
“We’re hoping there will be some trails in here and some overlooks so we can get people in here to enjoy it,” Hammer said.
Jeff Dankert can be reached at (815) 220-6977.
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