Restoring Barrington area's natural habitat

Carol Hogan of Lake Barrington hunkers down in some reeds at Wagner Fen as she applies herbicide to freshly cut buckthorn stems. Buckthorn is a non-native species that damages ecosystems by crowding out more beneficial native plants.
Carol Hogan of Lake Barrington hunkers down in some reeds at Wagner Fen as she applies herbicide to freshly cut buckthorn stems. Buckthorn is a non-native species that damages ecosystems by crowding out more beneficial native plants.

LAKE BARRINGTON — Armed with loppers, hacksaws, a chainsaw and herbicide, the group set out on a gray, chilly morning intent on its mission.

“It’s called the ‘I Hate Buckthorn Club,’” said Carol Hogan of Lake Barrington. “Come join us.”

The group of 10 whose boots crunched through the snow into Wagner Fen on a recent Saturday was a relatively small one for a Citizens for Conservation workday. The sky had threatened rain in the morning,  likely diminishing the turnout, Restoration Chairman Tom Vanderpoel said.

Those who showed up, however, got straight to business, about half heading into the reeds where younger buckthorn was shooting skyward in patches, and half heading a little further south, where a more mature stand of the invasive plant was showing its prowess.

“This is our private preserve,” said Jim Vanderpoel, Tom’s brother and also very active with CFC. “It’s contiguous with Lake County Forest Preserve property.”

Wagner Fen accounts for 42 acres of CFC’s total 403 acres in the Barrington area. In existence for 42 years this April, Citizens for Conservation has worked in conjunction with other agencies, including the forest preserve to influence a collective 3,000 acres.

Through donations, fundraising and volunteer efforts, the group acquires, restores and maintains areas to foster natural habitat for living things and improve the area’s quality of life.

Wagner Fen is an important water recharge area. Its health is threatened by the aggressive, non-native buckthorn, which, if allowed to propagate, would wipe out the fen’s native plants, ruining its biodiversity and even altering the soil and water’s pH, group members said.

“This is an alkaline fen,” said Jim Vanderpoel, who lives in Arlington Heights and grew up in Barrington. “All of these little hills are piles of gravel left by a glacier. It filters the water and makes it very clean.”

Soon after the group arrived about 9:15 a.m. March 9, piles of clipped buckthorn grew while Hogan and Tom Vanderpoel applied blue-dyed Garlan 4 to the cut stems.

“This is approved by the Illinois Nature Preserve Association,” said Tom Vanderpoel, of unincorporated Barrington. “It’s oil-based. The oil drags the herbicide into the plant. There’s very little collateral damage if you’re careful with it.”

Sam Oliver, staff director of Citizens for Conservation and the agency’s sole paid employee, said the organization’s steadfast volunteers are its lifeblood. New volunteers always are welcome, and workdays are scheduled from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays year-round, she said.

“It’s a big picture, and the work that’s been done over these many years has definitely affected the quality of life for all ages of people who live here,” Oliver said.

Most of the land CFC holds has been donated. Of the total 403 acres in 10 preserves, the group bought 115 acres that are part of the Flint Creek Savanna in Lake Barrington, the group’s largest preserve and the location of its farmhouse office across from Good Shepherd Hospital.

Most recently, the group acquired through donation a 22-acre site southeast of Cuba and North Hart roads from the offspring of Carol and Art Rice Jr. It will be known as Craftsbury Preserve, a nod to its origins as the 32-acre Craftsbury Farm, Oliver said.

CFC not only works to save and restore land, but it also offers youth and adult education workshops, hosts school and scouting groups, runs a paid summer intern program and more.

In 2012, 290 people tallied 13,000 volunteer hours, Oliver said.

The organization is grateful to all contributors, from generous land donors to dues-paying members, board members, supporters of the annual native plant sale, and the hardy volunteers who don glasses and gloves for countless workdays, she said.

“We, I feel, make a special effort to be very welcoming of people who want to give in any way they can,” she said. “Some just want to write a check, but others want to be out every week year-round.”

At Wagner Fen, the volunteers on March 9 ranged in age from 26 to 76, and included retired pro football player Steve Smith of Barrington and insurance and financial planning consultant Tom Crosh of Barrington as well as Gail Rudisill of Kildeer, Ralph Tarquino of Hawthorn Woods, Ryan Guilfoil of Arlington Heights, Bryan Hughes of Inverness and Steve Knutson of Deer Park.

“It’s a battle,” said Crosh of ongoing efforts as he drew a hacksaw back and forth on the trunk of a buckthorn tree. “But we can see the results in our savannas and prairies and in our wetland restorations, and that’s highly rewarding for everyone.”

Upcoming/ongoing CFC programs


Native Plant, Shrub and Tree Sale

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 4-5

Where: CFC headquarters, 459 W. Route 22, Lake Barrington


Restoration Workdays

When: 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays year-round (also Thursdays in spring, summer)

Where: Meet at CFC home, 459 W. Route 22, Lake Barrington


More information: (847) 382-7283;

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