Renae Frigo: Action needed to restore local parks
Hummingbirds have become my new symbol of hope and potential.
This summer, I stood in the middle of Glen Ellyn’s Churchill Park checking on a few plants we had recently put in the ground. Then I heard them, two hummingbirds zipping around looking for jewelweed nectar to sip.
I remember what the area looked like just two years ago. The wooded wetland was choked with common buckthorn, an invasive Eurasian tree that creates densely shaded thickets.
Bare dirt lay beneath the stand of trees. Nothing else could grow there. Then in 2010, more than 200 students and volunteers helped to clear the invaders.
Quite rapidly, the land started to heal. Wetland seeds, shrubs and sedges were added.
But the most amazing transformation was what started to grow that we didn’t plant. Emerging from dormancy were plants like spotted jewelweed, native grasses, and bottle gentian.
The seeds were from plants that had been there years before the alien trees had taken over. These patient little bundles of life were just waiting for the right conditions. Now that the sun could reach the soil and the water levels had risen a bit in the absence of thirsty buckthorn roots, these plants were once again thriving — and so were the hummingbirds.
The Glen Ellyn Park District has begun to restore land like this in its other parks. Many of our small neighborhood parks that we think look lush and green, in actuality, are withering and dying.
According to several sources, there are about 2,700 plant species in the Chicago region. Of those, more than 1,300 are introduced/non-native and more than 150 are considered invasive weeds.
As the weeds take charge, our native flora dies off (and many of the associated fauna) as does a bit of our natural heritage. Some of our regional plants can be found nowhere else on the planet.
Changes can be made. As we better understand the benefits of having biologically diverse green spaces, we can help our precious natural resources fight back. Together we can restore wetlands that capture and cleanse storm water, thin our clogged woodlands to let in light for our native plants and add small prairies in our parks and gardens to offer shelter and nourishment to local wildlife.
Volunteers are always needed to help in these efforts, so consider giving back to your natural community. Visit the Park District website, www.gepark.org, for more information. And as you walk through our parks, perhaps you too will see a hummingbird.
A Glen Ellyn resident, Renae Frigo is a naturalist with the Glen Ellyn Park District. She holds a B.S. in biology and environmental science, and an M.S. ED in curriculum and instruction, outdoor education. She has more than 14 years experience creating, teaching and supervising environmental and science programs for children and adults, including restoring Churchill Park.
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