On behalf of McHenry County Conservation District, we work to protect McHenry County’s prairies, woodlands, and wetlands by supporting the District's land acquisition efforts whenever possible. Together, we have successfully run two Open Space Referendums, ultimately providing $141.5 million in funds to purchase open space, and protect over 6,820 acres through direct acquisition costs. These lands ensure that essential native habitat for native plants and animals is preserved and maintained, and that the public can enjoy additional outdoor recreational amenities.
Since the creation of the District in 1971, over 25,700 acres of land have been protected; public places that safeguard our groundwater, provide wide open spaces and landscape views, and offer a home to numerous plants and animals. The Conservation Foundation has been instrumental in significant land acquisition purchases that have contributed to the makeup and quality of life we hold dear in McHenry County.
Land Acquisition Highlights:
21.4 Acres Added to Coral Woods Conservation Area
In 2020, the Conservation Foundation collaborated with private donors, the Conservation District, and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) to add 21.41 acres to the footprint of Coral Woods Conservation Area in Marengo. Roughly 19.4 acres were purchased by the Foundation and ICECF, while two additional acres, owned by Bonnie and James Leahy, were protected by conservation easement. In addition, the Leahy’s made a gift directed toward future restoration activities on this newly acquired property. Their support, combined with restoration funds from the ICECF grant, purchased 439 native trees, shrubs, and variety of native seeds. Coral Woods Conservation Area is one of only seven areas remaining in the county containing 100 contiguous acres or more of oaks. The acres that were added exhibit rolling terrain and consists of mature oak woodland with a small intermittent stream traversing the property. Acquisition of this parcels further the Conservation District’s goals of oak preservation, reforestation and protection of Coral Woods.
Foundation Purchases 15-acre Oak Woodland in Marengo
Donor support made it possible for McHenry County Conservation Foundation to purchase a 15-acre oak woodland inholding at Marengo Ridge Conservation Area. This key acquisition will allow the Conservation District to more efficiently manage the Conservation area in its entirety, while promoting oak woodland regeneration and supporting the plants and animals that thrive in this ecosystem. The topography is beautiful, rolling oak woodland with some old white oaks, as well as red, bur, and hill’s oak species. Ecologically speaking, the most exciting spot is a small woodland vernal pool. These are a type of small, temporary forest wetlands that provide critical breeding habitat for a number of amphibians and invertebrates. In addition, they serve as an important link in the forest food web. Purchased in Spring 2020.
Hackmatack - Purchasing the Cornerstone of the nation's 557th National Wildlife Refuge
After more than eight years of dedicated efforts by many individuals and local conservation groups (most notably, the Friends of Hackmatack), the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was established in July 2012. To legally establish a Refuge, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to own land, yet no federal dollars had been appropriated. The McHenry County Conservation Foundation, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and Openlands, partnered to purchase the first parcel of land within the Refuge boundaries. On November 6, 2012 the 11,200 acre Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was formally established through the transfer of a 12-acre conservation easement from the Conservation Foundation. The Conservation Foundation helped purchase the cornerstone of the nation’s 557th National Wildlife Refuge. Read more about this landmark land purchase.
Grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation, Oberweiler Foundation, and the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, helped the Conservation Foundation to leverage funding from the State to secure this unique parcel along the Fox River corridor. The site represents unique river bluffs and wetlands and provides important woodland habitat for avian species migrating along the river corridor.
Boone Creek Headwaters
The Foundation was able to leverage some of our own funding to secure grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and state legislative funds to purchase several tracts of land adjacent to the former Bull Valley Hunt Club just east of Woodstock. This parcel secured protection of the headwaters of Boone Creek, a biologically significant stream that supports a diversity of aquatic species. In addition, Phase II included the Foundation's assistance in acquisition of the former Bull Valley Hunt Club.
Elizabeth Lake Acquisition
Through the Conservation Foundation’s Individual Donor Program, we received a very generous donation specified for land acquisition. We worked closely with the donor and the Conservation District to match a land acquisition project to the donor’s interests. Protection and conservation of the Elizabeth Lake Conservation was a high priority for the District. This site is home to nineteen endangered and threatened plant and animal species that require the diverse matrix of wetland and aquatic communities found there.
Elizabeth Lake and Vargas Archeological Site
Through the Individual Donor Program, the District was able to find enough in matching funds to secure this site. This site represents one of the last remaining undeveloped shoreline parcels of Lake Elizabeth in Illinois. The Illinois Natural Areas Inventory identified Elizabeth Lake as the highest quality lake ecosystem remaining in McHenry County and is home to nineteen endangered and threatened plant and animal species that thrive in the diverse mosaic of wetland and aquatic communities there. This sole remaining private parcel really was key in protecting the shoreline of this exceptionally fine lake. A narrow excavation (i.e., channel) through the high-quality sedge meadow attests to the owner’s intention to develop this site for home sites and lake access. With our financial contribution, the Conservation District has been able to leverage the funds necessary to complete this transaction.
Goose Lake Natural Area
Our acquisition of the home and out-buildings at this site allowed the Conservation District to expand the Goose Lake Conservation Area by 164 acres. A lot of work involving zoning, home repair, and real estate transactions were necessary, but in the end, we were able to save the McHenry County Conservation District over $225,000 for future land acquisitions at this site.
Brookdale Conservation Area - Acquisition
The involvement of MCCF not only helped to expand the Brookdale Conservation Area but saved the Conservation District $80,000. Our actions also allowed a long-time tenant the unique opportunity to purchase the home in which they had lived for many years.
Without membership support, the Foundation would not be able to provide the resources necessary to secure these valuable funds.