By Pam Richards

Last summer a variety of prairies were discovered at Lake Carroll – a four-season recreational community between Lanark and Pearl City, Ill.  Carroll County is the southern-most region of the TPE-monitored areas.  These finds included a remnant, a planted prairie, and golf course prairies.  Both the remnant and planted prairies were featured in two local news mediums.             

Becky Janopoulos, along with Jim and Pam Richards, Lake Carroll residents and Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts (NIPE) members, noticed eight acres of prairie remnant on both sides of an established ATV trail where Jim Richards found a unique plant later identified by Jim Rachuy as the short green milkweed with a conservation value of 10 (Wilhelm & Rericha, 2017).

In the fall, Jim and Rickie Rachuy planted the seed from the one green milkweed pod in their rare species garden and grew 24 seedlings.  Then Duane Ambroz, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) heritage biologist, visited this remnant twice and determined it to be a grade three abandoned pasture/gravel hill remnant prairie.  He found two types of Spiranthes orchids or lady’s tresses during his visits and since then, we have identified 30 grasses and forbs at that location.

At the same time, we investigated another seven-acre prairie along Lake Carroll Boulevard. This mesic-dry prairie was planted in 1989 by IDNR, Pheasants Forever, and the Lake Association. Since then, we have found a second unit separated by a woodland. These have not been managed, and we wanted to recognize and protect them, so prairie signs were posted. Here we have documented 35 forb and grass species so far, and will continue to catalog plants, butterflies and other insect species.

If that was not enough work for us, a golfer escorted us around the 18-hole course where we found six planted mini-prairies. It was exciting to see how great they looked after 30 years and will hopefully provide an additional seed bank opportunity for us. 

We formed a Lake Carroll Prairie Club in September 2018 to recruit Lake Members’ help.  Our mission statement is “To preserve and maintain the prairies and woodlands of Lake Carroll to improve the quality of the community’s ecosystem.”  We currently have 35 members and hold monthly meetings and write Lake newsletter articles to educate the community on the benefits and beauty of these prairies. We post the emerging forbs or insect discoveries along with an educational text on the Lake’s Facebook page. 

Topics have ranged from the definition and benefits of prairies, woodland management, eradication of invasive species, prairie plant varieties, wildlife, prairie burns and rain gardens. We even planted our own rain garden to prove how, in a one-inch rainfall, just two downspouts spilling out 600 gallons of water can dissipate within a couple of hours. This was featured on a garden walk here.  We have been working on all these sites eradicating invasives, burning and collecting seeds.

But wait, there’s more

The Prairie Club and Lake Manager Joe Rush proposed and received approval to plant an acre parcel called the Edgewater Planting. We want to showcase this prairie by planting annuals followed by a variety of prairie plants in a structured arrangement! We are also experimenting with prairie planting in a campground area where trees fell and were removed.

Rush also encouraged us to join the Watershed Plan Committee, which works to obtain matching federal grant monies for the East Fork Creek watershed, surrounding local farmers and the Lake Carroll Association. This has been a great learning experience, and we are passing on information about the effects of polluted run-off on streams, lakes and rivers including the Mississippi.

Of course, the three of us are dedicated workers for the NIPE group in Carroll and Jo Daviess counties as well and have been grateful for the mentoring from the NIPE board and staff. If you’re down in the Carroll County area—stop by—we’ll show you around and put you to work!