AMBOY — It harbors high quality sand prairie, oak savanna and wetlands, un-plowed and un-drained remnants of a landscape original to Illinois.
Because of this, the Amboy Marsh also supplies a diversity of plants and animals, including endangered Blanding’s turtles, which need open sand prairie to nest and lay eggs and wetlands to live and eat.
Tuesday was a big step for Amboy Marsh in its hundreds of years of evolution. Illinois Audubon Society bought 272 acres from two landowners, securing the property for management and preservation as a natural area.
“I have been working diligently since 1986 to see that these properties are preserved for all eternity,” said Deb Carey. “I can now die happy. It is preserved.”
Carey is chairman of natural area guardian committee for Lee County Soil and Water Conservation District, which partnered with the 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. No tax dollars were spent.
The site, while retaining many virgin characteristics, needs management to remove encroaching invasive plants and trees and shrubs that threaten the sand prairie. Cutting and fire will be used to restore areas, Carey said. That will take volunteers and more money. Illinois Audubon will assemble a management team of local, regional and statewide professionals.
Carey has known about the site since 1986 when she discovered Blanding’s turtles there.
“It was like we hit the jackpot,” Carey said. “This was tremendous Blanding’s turtle habitat.”
The area has wetland, prairie and savanna, three habitats eradicated across Illinois and the Midwest. With these areas come more reptiles like prairie hognose snake, ornate box turtle, glass lizard and six-lined racerunners. A rare species of Indian plantain grows there, Carey said.
The site’s sandy soil saved it, making it unattractive to farmers, she said. The area lies within the Green River Lowland section of the Grand Prairie Division.
At the property sale closing Tuesday were Cindy and John McKee, Audubon members from Ottawa who have been involved with Audubon’s purchase.
“I think it’s awesome,” John McKee said. “It’s in very, very good shape. It’s going to need to some work. It has invasive (plants). It’s really a good piece of land. Amazingly, in that sand country, there are still ponds holding water there even after the drought.”
Audubon’s purchase will lead to formation of a new Audubon chapter in Lee County. It will serve as primary steward of the site. As the site is managed it will be opened to the public with a parking area available.
The property is 2 miles southeast of Amboy, just south of Morman Road and U.S. 52. The area is not currently open to the public. Inquiries about the site can be directed to Lee County Soil and Water Conservation District, (815) 857-3623.