Foundation Purchases 160 Acres in Hartland Township – Camp Lakota

This summer, the McHenry County Conservation Foundation—with the help of Illinois Audubon Society, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, and the individual donors who support our mission—purchased one of the last remaining, high-quality natural areas not under permanent protection in McHenry County.  Thanks to donor support, a 160-acre parcel in Hartland Township previously owned by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and used as the site for Camp Lakota has been permanently protected for the benefit of all McHenry County residents through our partnership with the McHenry County Conservation District.

“For more than 50 years, Camp Lakota introduced youth to a wide variety of outdoor activities and provided generations of Scouts the opportunity to immerse themselves in the outdoors and experience nature up-close,” said Brad Semel, McHenry County Conservation Foundation Board President. “By working in partnership with the Illinois Audubon Society, the McHenry County Conservation District, private donors, and the generous financial backing of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, we are thrilled to be able to protect not only the environmental integrity of the site for the benefit of the local community, but also ensure so many Scouting memories are preserved as well.”

A Rare Land Protection Opportunity 
Across Illinois, only about one percent of our state’s natural areas remain intact. These open spaces are the last remaining vestiges of the woodlands that once spanned across our northern and southern borders and the prairies that provide the state with its iconic namesake. As the population of our state’s urban areas continue to migrate into the surrounding rural areas and as a shifting climate continues to alter our natural world, preserving what undeveloped land remains is of critical and timely importance.

Numerous federal, state, and local conservation organizations consider the property an important acquisition for the protection of many vulnerable species and the preservation of an important migratory corridor. It’s listed on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) and recognized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as having high quality natural biological features, particularly Advanced Identification (ADID) wetlands. These high quality habitats support diverse natural communities, which in turn support rare and threatened fauna. These include endangered or threatened birds such as least bittern, common gallinule, and yellow-headed blackbird.

“We are thrilled to have been able to work with the McHenry County Conservation Foundation and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to protect this this very important parcel for birds and other wildlife,” said Jim Herkert, Executive Director of Illinois Audubon Society.

The site is also the location of significant stands of remnant oak trees where woodland flowers such as trout lily and shooting stars bloom each spring. The juxtaposition of woodland and wetlands make this property ideal for supporting breeding populations of amphibians. Numerous vernal ponds exist on the site. Because they dry up in the summer, these ponds cannot support fish and are ideal habitat for frogs and salamanders that need water to reproduce, lay eggs, and grow through the tadpole phase. The vernal ponds then provide foraging opportunities for migrating species that stop over on their long journey to breeding territory further north. 

The Future of the Property
In order to ensure the permanent protection of this land, the Foundation plans to transfer the property to the District within five years. In the meantime, the District and the Foundation will work together to restore the area. Future plans for the public use of the site will be discussed between the Foundation and the Conservation District over the coming months. 

In addition to funding the acquisition,  the $503,440 grant from Illinois Clean Energy Foundation will also support restoration on the parcel. Priority restoration work includes herbicide application to exotic species, such as reed canary grass and Phragmites. These persist in small, isolated populations in the high quality wetland basins and treatment will stop further invasion. Also of critical importance is restoring the oak woodlands surrounding the wetlands. Removing invasive species will open the understory, creating more surface airflow and dry vegetation so to allow prescribed fire to positively impact the wetlands, which in turn will open them up and entice avian species to use them.

“We are so delighted to support an acquisition that is not only of great conservation priority, but that will connect nearly 2,000 acres of natural area. We thank the McHenry County Conservation Foundation, Illinois Audubon Society, and other funders for inviting us to work with them to make this happen,” said Frances Kane, Associate Program Officer, Natural Areas of Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

North of the property is the District’s Brookdale Conservation Area, a 1,620 acre complex of wetlands, prairie, and woodlands. In addition to the District’s public lands, the parcel is bound by conservation easements. With the successful acquisition of Camp Lakota, this means nearly 1,837 acres of contiguous lands are protected. By restoring this parcel, we will greatly enhance its ecological value as a travel corridor and habitat for area sensitive species for which large tracts of land are critical for survival. The area will also continue to serve as an important recharge area for the county’s groundwater resources.