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

Owl Prowl

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

Join us for an evening owl-prowl hike at Casper Bluff. We will start by examining the contents of owl pellets to see what these nocturnal birds of prey eat. Everyone will then head out for a night hike through Casper Bluff to identify different owls by their calls. There will be hot chocolate to warm you […] Read More

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