Freeing the Oaks – Restoring a Rare Ecosystem at Gateway Park

The oak savanna at Galena Gateway Park.

JDCF is thrilled to receive two grants that will be used to restore 14 acres of native oak savanna at Gateway Park in Galena, Illinois. Volunteers with the Galena Area Land Enthusiasts (GALE) and the Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts (NIPE) have been working hard since 2015 to restore this overgrown area of the park to a beautiful wildlife habitat area for the public to enjoy.

Oak savannas are a mix of oak forest and open prairie habitats. Oak savannas are characterized by scattered hardwood trees like oaks and hickories that allow enough sunlight to reach ground to sustain native prairie species like bluestem, purple coneflower, and sunflowers. Fire is required to keep the understory free of brushy vegetation and other invasive species. The thick, cork-like bark of the bur oak trees insulates even young trees from the flames and allows these trees to fully mature and spread their branches out over the savanna.

Oak savannas were once common throughout the Midwest but have declined tremendously from decades of human activity and lack of proper management, including a lack of prescribed fire. Today, oak savannas are one of the rarest ecosystems on the entire planet.

The restoration of the oak savanna at Gateway Park includes the removal of 14 acres of brushy species from the understory and the removal of some of the larger trees that don’t belong in an oak savanna. Following the vegetation removal, the area will be burned and seeded with native prairie species hand-collected by the Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts.

Funding for this incredible habitat restoration project was provided by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation’s Community Stewardship Challenge grant program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, and an in-kind donation from the Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts. The acquisition, preservation, and management of Gateway Park is an ongoing partnership between JDCF and the City of Galena.

Upcoming Events

Fall Forest Walk

September 30 @ 1:00 pm - 3:30 pm

With fall on the way, the appearance of trees changes significantly and identifying them can be tricky – unless you know your bark, berries, and  nuts. Join us to celebrate the change of season with a Fall Forest Walk at Schurmeier Teaching Forest. This free event will be led by expert staff and volunteers from […] Read More

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Creatures of the Night: Owls & Bats

October 21 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Learn about some of our nocturnal friends, owls and bats. This program, geared towards a middle school grade level, introduces the life cycle of the owl and its food and habitat. It also identifies the characteristics that make the owl a perfect predator and member of the raptor family. Participants will get to dissect an […] Read More

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The Return of Large Predators to the Midwest

November 11 @ 12:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Our keynote speaker will be Adrian Wydeven, nationally-renowned timber wolf expert, based at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College, in Ashland, WI. For more than 50 years, there were NO sightings of wolves in Illinois, but with declining habitat north of us, wolves have again been sighted since 2002, more in Jo Daviess […] Read More

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Owl Prowl

December 2 @ 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Join us for an evening owl-prowl hike at Casper Bluff.  This year, we will be joined by the Northern Illinois Raptor Rehab and Education Center who will bring along a few of their feathered friends for an educational program and meet and greet with live owls before we head out on the trails. There will be […] Read More

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