The DuPage County Forest Preserve District is continuing efforts to add extra layers of protection to several of its sites, hoping to gain Illinois Nature Preserve status for two more locations this summer.
Six DuPage sites already have received the designation, including Churchill Woods near Glen Ellyn and West Chicago Prairie.
Erik Neidy, forest preserve manager of natural resources, said the initiative is part of a goal to protect 10 of the district's highest-quality properties. Although ordinances already require the areas to be preserved, the nature preserve status offers even more ecological protection.
The district continues to own, manage and maintain the designated preserves as it always has, but anyone who destroys natural resources or violates other regulations are subject to state penalties.
Belleau Woods, the 68 acres near Roosevelt and County Farm roads, was nominated for the designation because it contains more than 300 species of native plants among an upland oak forest, floodplain forest and prairie, Neidy said. It has remained undeveloped since the district received the land in 1965.
Early this year, adjacent St. Francis High School petitioned the forest preserve for a land swap to use part of Belleau Woods for a parking lot and athletic field. The district refused and if nature preserve status is granted, would not even have the option of letting St. Francis use any of the land.
Neidy said the district is not pursuing nature preserve status to torpedo St. Francis' request, but said "Belleau Woods has always been in line" for this distinction.
Unlike Belleau Woods, Springbrook Prairie is highly developed and popular with visitors, Neidy said. But it also contains the largest grassland community in DuPage County -- roughly 1,800 acres -- and supports 11 threatened species of birds, including short-eared owls and northern harriers.
These areas are nominated for nature preserve status, but its off-leash dog area, model-aircraft field and picnic areas are not part of the request and would continue as they are today.
Within the proposed nature preserve area, however, dogs, horses and bicycles would need to remain on the maintained trails, which is similar to current district requirements.
In addition Springbrook Prairie has one of the healthiest streams in the area, which is why a 50-acre section to the north will be dedicated as Illinois Land and Water Reserve. This is a tier below an Illinois Nature Preserve, Neidy said, and will not prevent visitors from fishing.
DuPage residents can learn more about both sites, ask questions and offer feedback during a presentation at 7 p.m. Monday, June 25, at Danada House, 3S501 Naperville Road, Wheaton. Staff members will discuss the benefits of pursing state nature preserve status for parts of Belleau Woods and Springbrook Prairie, outline key habitats it would protect, and discuss the positive effects the designation has had at Churchill Woods and West Chicago Prairie.
District staff members will answer questions and gather feedback from attendees. Individuals may also submit feedback via email through June 27 at email@example.com.
The six-member forest preserve commission will consider the feedback and vote on whether to forward the two nominations to the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. The state commission must give final approval before the designation is official.