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Dixon Waterfowl Refuge: More good stuff coming

The Wetlands Initiative is looking to make an even bigger splash.

Purchase of Hickory Hollow will be one of several advances at the Dixon

Waterfowl Refuge, commonly known as Hennepin and Hopper lakes.

Foremost will be the closing on Dec. 17 on the purchase of 433 acres, named Hickory Hollow, to the south of the refuge.


There is also an ongoing work on Oak Ridge trail and restoration project

on the north end. And intensive surveys by veteran fisheries biologist

Wayne Herndon and his crew found no common carp, not one, in the lakes;

which means some form of public fishing will reopen sometime in 2015.

“We will need a new coming-out party for this,” executive director Paul Botts said.

He’s right about that. TWI will need to prepare for a significant jump

in public interaction.

I am all for it. I say that as somebody who already makes side trips to

climb the tower and view the refuge anytime I am in the vicinity.

Something about seeing that we can bring back wild spaces restores my

spirit, my belief in my fellow humans.

The Dixon Waterfowl Refuge is one of the grandest ongoing experiments

in the wild world of Illinois. The original nearly 2,700 acres of the refuge

around Hennepin and Hopper lakes returned with glorious vengeance

when the drainage pumps were turned off in 2001. That alone started

the ground-breaking floodplain restoration along the Illinois River.

I’ve marveled since the first time I saw the refuge in the fall of 2001

when Dick Schroeder took me around in a john boat using push poles.

We could not believe how quickly sago pondweed and other aquatic

vegetation came back on its own.

It was wildly magical.

The purchase and restoration of Hickory Hollow is vital because

it will protect the Thomas W. and Elizabeth Moews Dore Seep,

largest seep along the Illinois River. The designated Illinois Nature

Preserve contains unique species, including the state-endangered

yellow monkey-flower.

Hickory Hollow also will allow direct access to Route 26, which will

help with signage (“a big glowing duck or whatever’’) and a

future trailhead.

“It has been in our sights from the beginning,’’ Botts said.

Hickory Hollow, a bluff directly overlooking the seep, is on land

owned by Vulcan Materials.

TWI made a run at Vulcan early on but found no interest. Then some

The Nature Conservancy folks tipped off TWI that Vulcan might be

ready. Vulcan is giving TWI “a bargain sale’’ at just under $1.6 million

for the land that contains wet and dry prairie, rare sand oak savanna

and an important stream bed.

About 133 acres will be put into a conservation or agricultural easement

and sold to help pay for the purchase and restoration. Botts said a buyer

“should call us now.’’

The deal took some doing.

The Oberweiler Foundation started it with $50,000 spread over three

years. A cool million came from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (corrected);

also $600,000 came from Grand Victoria Foundation, half for purchase

and half for the restoration, set to begin next fall. The national

not-for-profit, The Conservation Fund, provided the bridge for $300,000

to complete purchase.

“It is a fixer-upper, for sure,’’ Botts said.

The right kind.

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