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Remnant prairie found near Carroll County lake

Signs warn mowers and sprayers to stay away help protect pristine original prairie found at Lake Carroll in Carroll County. Residents at the community found the prairie remnant and a more recent, planted prairie in May, and formed a club to help preserve the find. Photos submitted by Jim Richards.
Signs warn mowers and sprayers to stay away help protect pristine original prairie found at Lake Carroll in Carroll County. Residents at the community found the prairie remnant and a more recent, planted prairie in May, and formed a club to help preserve the find. Photos submitted by Jim Richards.

LAKE CARROLL – Exotically named plants like lllinois flowering spurge, whorled milkweed, and blue lobelia once covered 60 percent of the Prairie State.

Then came pastures, and invasive species, and now, more than a century later, less than 0.1 percent of that original prairie remains.

But one of the remnants popped up in May at Lake Carroll, with a more recent prairie plot found soon after. Both prairies cover between 5 to 10 acres.

Resident Becky Janopolous was riding her ATV when she spotted unusual plants on the community’s northeast side, and told her fellow Lake Carroll residents Jim and Pam Richards about her find.

“She said one day, ‘You need to see these plants,’” Jim Richards said.

Pam Richards knows about prairies after becoming a Master
Naturalist through training with the University of Illinois Extension. The Richardses first met Janopolous about 4 or 5 years ago, when they were working with Lake Carroll Facilities Manager Don Aleksy and AmeriCorps personnel to remove invasive plants.

While investigating the first prairie, Jim found a plant he’d never seen before, and photographed it to show Jim Rachuy. Rachuy is the president of the Northwest Illinois chapter of Prairie Enthusiasts, a group which works with landowners, farmers and others to preserve prairie remnants.

“It was green milkweed, almost exclusively found in remnants,” Jim said.

“The pristine prairie has unique plants, like lllinois flowering spurge, whorled milkweed and blue lobelia, which we don’t have here, and cup plant, which isn’t at the planted prairie,” Jim said.

The planted prairie is a more recent introduction to Lake Carroll. The friends found more out-of-the-ordinary plants on the ATV trail on Lake Carroll’s west side, just north of the community’s dam.

“It was planted as a joint cooperative between Lake Carroll, IDNR, and Stephenson County Pheasants Forever in 1989. They forgot about it,” Jim Richards said.

Aleksy put up signs to alert groundskeepers and residents not to spray or mow the native plants. The Richardses and Janopolous formed a prairie club to help take care of the prairie sites.

“There’s lots of woody invasives. Our task this fall and through the winter is to start removing those invasives,” Jim Richards said.

Lake Carroll residents can join the club by calling 815-931-2972.

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