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

JDCF Nature Preserves ~ A Q&A with Our Executive Director

September 24 @ 10:00 am - 10:30 am

Join us Live on Facebook with our own Steve Barg who will discuss all things related to JDCF’s public preserves.  There are some misconceptions about our land preservation work in Jo Daviess County, IL.  Steve will be ready to answer all your questions!  Tune in to learn how the Foundation prioritizes land acquisitions, how these […] Read More

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Discover Wapello ~ A Discussion with Archaeologist Phil Millhouse, PhD

October 3 @ 10:30 am - 11:00 am

JDCF will be Live on Facebook with special guest and renowned archaeologist, Phil Millhouse, PhD, at the Wapello Land & Water Reserve, the site of his doctoral field work in 2005. Phil will talk about his initial findings, which contributed to Wapello being placed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its cultural […] Read More

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Meet the Members of GALE ~ A Facebook Live Event

October 15 @ 10:00 am - 10:30 am

We will be Live from the worksite at Horseshoe Mound with members of the Galena Area Land Enthusiasts (GALE), a volunteer group that has been helping our stewardship staff with field work since 2012.  This group of not-so-young guys and gals work year round in all weather conditions battling invasive species, assisting with prescribed burns, […] Read More

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