Park Profiles: Deer Grove Forest Preserve, East

Since June 21 our days have grown shorter. The sun shows less and less every day, and the flowers of early summer have completed their cycle. The Golden Alexanders have dulled and Wild White Indigo is producing pods. Quinine and Foxglove Beardtongue have lost their vibrance. A changing of the guard is taking place. A look into the prairie will reveal a new ocean, comprised of yellows and purples. The waves of purple, provided by Bee Balm, are a sure sign summer is in full swing. Yellow Coneflower, Compass Plant, Rosinweed and Prairie Dock provide an accenting yellow. Quick to flower, Purple Prairie Clover may already fade by the typing of these words. A diverse plant ecosystem leads to a diverse array of wildlife including birds and pollinators. However, for Deer Grove, this was not always the case. Deer Grove Forest Preserve displays a biodiversity that has come laboriously through ecological restoration.

The sprawl of Chicago has come at the cost of our natural heritage. The loss of prairies has resulted in two new ways to described them: Remnant and restored. Remnants are tracts of land that have been relatively undisturbed. They’ve never been paved over, turned into a Blockbuster and paved over again. They have simply existed. Of course, many remnants today are undergoing restoration as well. Even remnants are prone to non-native invasions. Restored prairies may occur on old farmland, as is the case with Schulenberg Prairie in Morton Arboretum. They are planned, planted, and managed prairies using techniques that have evolved with knowledge. The science behind restoration is continuously evolving as the first planted prairies had only remnants as reference. Action has guided written restoration principles which guide further action. Deer Grove Forest Preserve’s restoration reflects a history of changing attitudes towards our natural communities and highlights the potential of ecological restoration to bring people back into the natural world.

Deer Grove dates back to 1916 as the first property acquired by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Today, the site is nearly 2000 acres, 4 times the size it was in 1916. Bisected by Quentin Road on the north side of Dundee Road in Palatine, we will focus on portion east of Quentin. Deer Grove East’s recent history begins with destruction. When O’Hare expanded in 2005, it destroyed wetlands in the process. To mitigate the damage, O’Hare Modernization Mitigation Account awarded funds to several preserves, including Deer Grove East. For more, visit O’Hare Wetlands Restoration The funds were put to work restoring the overgrown, over-shaded, degraded ecosystems present in Deer Grove East. To this day, the prairies, savannas, woodlands, and twenty-three wetlands have undergone massive changes and management takes place to this day.

Where would a bird want to land?

If you’re a bird flying overhead in search of food, water, and shelter, what stands out on this map? It’s certainly the oasis among the suburbs. Many animals and even native plants have done well in a suburban setting. Robins, Cardinals and Chickadees are common backyard sights. However, there are some species that simply will not be seen making a life among our home gardens. These species require large tracts of open lands or certain species of plants. These pickier species are excellent indicators for the status of a restoration. Due to invasive species, it’s likely that no restoration will ever be complete, but ecologists look for signs to evaluate the progress and health of the prairie. Plants such as Lead Plant are excellent indicators, because they take years to flower even under the right conditions. In general, the presence of rare plants is indicative of a healthy community. The same can be said for wildlife. Recently, a listed species of concern, the Henslow’s Sparrow, was spotted among the prairie at Deer Grove East. Like many prairie birds, it simply requires large prairie habitat. Deer Grove would not have proved to be quality habitat if it were not for its conservation and restoration of its prairie ecosystem.

Henslow’s Sparrow, credit Audubon

With the prairie flowers comes pollinators as well. As some flowers associate with certain habitats, pollinators associate with certain flowers. At this point, most people are familiar with Monarch Butterflies and the movement to support them as well as our bees. Milkweed for Monarchs is an association dedicated to protecting Monarchs through the proliferation of Milkweed, the source Monarchs depend on for food and even their color. Poisonous to its predators, some seek to mimic the monarch. Viceroy butterflies exhibit similar coloring, but note the half-circle across its wings.

Viceroy Butterfly. Matthew Bucher
Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe. Matthew Bucher.

This is Hemaris thysbe, or the Clearwing Moth. It is worth noting because it associates with endangered Prairie Fringed Orchid. While its presence does not indicate there is Prairie Fringed Orchid around, it is another example of the interdependence of the plants and animals of our ecosystem and the challenges they face.

Doe and Fawn. Matthew Bucher.

I drove in late afternoon on a Sunday evening. Even with 90 degree temperatures and mosquito populations unlike what I’ve seen in years, groups of people gathered in the shade of trees dotting the turf grass and within the pavilions. Deer Grove Forest Preserve is certainly not lost on the people of Palatine. Pavilions are available for rental for gatherings of any kind.

Deer Grove East. Matthew Bucher

Visitors can rent bikes and explore the trails with speed. From Bike and Roll Chicago, Bike the Preserves works the HOPR app. Renters can use the app to purchase time much in the way of Divvy bikes. It’s a great way to see the bulk of such a large preserve and ride at a clip that’ll deter even the most voracious mosquitos. Deer Grove East and West, across Quentin Road, feature 4 miles of paved trails perfect for biking. For a complete list of Cook County Forest Preserves that have bikes for rental, visit Interactive Map, Forest Preserve District of Cook County and search “bike rental.”

Camping is also available in Camp Reinberg within Deer Grove East. Sites can be reserved online. It’s an excellent way to use up a few vacation days without committing to a long trip.

Deer Grove Forest Preserve is what preserves should strive to be. A strong emphasis is placed on preserving and restoring the different ecological communities but there is room for people to enjoy the grass, the flowers, the sun and the shade as well. It’s easy and even logical to categorize humans apart from animals, but we are a part of the natural world we reside in and without our involvement, is it a true representation of nature?

Deer Grove East. Matthew Bucher

Do you have a favorite natural area? Let me know in the comments and I’ll make it out there.

People all over the region are hard at work to fight invasive species and assist in establishing native plant populations. Some are federal or state employees, some are contractors, but many are volunteers. The volunteer networks across the state comprise people driven by a passion and appreciation for our parks. Their only payment is the satisfaction of flourishing native plants. I encourage you to attend a Stewardship Day at a site near you and see what gems that park down the road may hide. This week’s link features many sites within the Forest Preserve District of Cook county that offer Ecological Workdays.

FPDCC Volunteer Restoration Workdays

Matthew Bucher
Matthew Bucher