Winter 2009
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Woods of Wisdom

Winter 2009


"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively, the land ... a land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land – community to plain member and citizen of it ... it implies respect for his fellow members, and so also respect for the community as such."

--- Aldo Leopold, "Sand County Almanac"



Chuck Smead Retires from the Kankakee River Forest Preserve District Board

On July 8, 2008, Chuck Smead was presented with a plaque honoring over 18 years serving as a Board member. Ken Allers, chairman of the Board, said that Chuck Smead is the longest serving commissioner ever in the history of the district, which has increased about 508 acres through his work over the years. Mr. Smead worked with Floyd Swink, botanist with the Morton Arboretum and author of Plants of the Chicago Region to list and photograph the native wildflower species found on the Aroma Land and Water Preserve on Heiland Road in Aroma Park.

Chuck began his service with the Forest Preserve District in March of 1990. He had been a Kankakee Community College biology professor, and was recommended for a forest commissioner position by former KCC colleague Steve Liehr when Liehr left the board. Mr. Liehr stated that he recommended Chuck because of his expertise in biology and his belief in the importance of open space.

Chuck served a period as Forest Preserve board president, and for many years was head of the site development committee. Chuck’s many contributions to the Forest Preserve include the tree sapling planting at the Shannon Bayou site, the Gar Creek Prairie reconstruction project, the memorial tree program, the district educational programs, and the reforestation project in Limestone. He helped acquire acreage along Heiland Road in Aroma Park, 35 acres at theGar Creek site, the old arboretum site along Waldron Road in Aroma Park, and the 64 acres of Shannon Grove where the district office and interpretive center is located. When the Gar Creek site was acquired, the planting and fire management for the native prairie reconstruction was done with the help of some of Chuck’s former KCC students. Chuck designed the Aroma Preserve trail and the self-guided trail brochures, where hikers can walk through woodlands, prairie and wetland to trail’s end at the Kankakee River. Chuck’s vision of open space is a legacy preserved for the benefit of all.

Meet Your New Commissioner

I have recently retired in 2005 from ZLB Behring, now CSL Behring, where for the past several years I was Director of the Bioanalytical Laboratory in Preclinical R & D and U.S. Technical Operations.  My area of interest was analytical biochemistry, in particular, the structure and function of human plasma proteins.  I started there in 1969 when it was Armour Pharmaceutical in the Biochemistry Research group as a lab rat and spent the next 36 years enjoying a very satisfying career.  During that time the Company evolved, through various mergers and changing of hands to what it is today.  I worked my way from bench scientist to lab manager.  When we became an international company in the ‘90’s I was given additional responsibilities heading up a group of scientists to establish analytical capabilities in the U.S., France, and Germany to take advantage of the unique expertise at the different sites.  That led to the Directorship that I held until I retired.  My educational background include a B.S. and M.S. in Biological Sciences.  My family and I have lived in the Kankakee area for about 35 years. I have always had a strong interest in nature and our environment and preserving and improving what we have today.

--------- Richard L. Weeks

A Fifty + Year "Life Affair" With a Tiny Little Creek

A Story About a Kid, a Man, a Creek, and "Currents"

St. George Creek, or Canavan Creek, or any one of the other local "endearments by which this local stream is known by the local area residents, is an interesting and important drainage system for a large part of Kankakee County. So – whether called "St. George Creek", "Baker’s Creek", or Canavan Slough", depends on where one is looking at it. The Creek is considered officially a "stream" in Illinois.

Located predominantly in the north and eastern part of Kankakee County, this stream is given the following map coordinates:

41˚ 13’ 58" N

87˚ 46’ 11" W

Not really very romantic! Oh well!

A stretch of the creek runs right into the village of St. George, Illinois; the locals refer to it in that stretch as the "St. George Creek". To the northern end of the stream and on several of the local bridge plates along the creek one can find the usage of the term "Canavan Slough", while to the south, in and around the small group of homes located near the Exline Farmer’s Elevator, it is usually referred to locally as the "Exline Creek". Finally, as one nears the mouth of the creek, at the point at which it enters the Kankakee River on the north side approximately ¼ mile east of Interstate 57 it is called "Baker’s Creek".

Starting as a trickle in Will County west of Beecher, St. George Creek is joined by another even smaller creek which runs parallel to it from about 5 miles north and east of Whitaker to where it joins the St. George Creek about 2.5 miles north of St. George village. For most of the journey from the source to the final destination, St. George Creek crawls along over many muddy bottomed miles. Some of these miles actually allowed for some short canoeing places before the "straightening" and dredging of the creek in the 1970’s. The creek goes through very rich Kankakee County farm ground, finally nearing its end in the last few miles where the slow waters become a slightly different creek. Just as it passes the community of Exline, it transforms into one of the few rocky bottomed and more rapidly moving stretches of the creek. Here it begins to cut its way into the same bedrock shelf which one finds on a much larger scale in the Rock Creek Gorge at Kankakee River State Park.

To this long gone-from childhood, nearly 60 year old resident of the tiny village which lends the creek its name "St. George Creek", at least locally, it is a place of very strong "currents". Through the life of the individual telling this story is a lifetime’s worth of incredible "Mark Twain" type adventures along its varied banks.

Although our grandfather had farmed in Kankakee County and our father grew up in this area, in the 1950’s, we were the only family living on a certain island in the Niagara River approximately three miles upstream from the Niagara Falls. In late 1957 we moved here in the midst of a severe winter storm. It seems kind of funny in retrospect how the "currents" of a life are seen not only in St. George Creek itself, but also in this person’s life – a typical journey of a boy to a man down this otherwise hardly ever noticed tiny tributary to the County’s single largest stream, the Kankakee River.

While the Kankakee River is the end of this creek’s journey, it adds many of its own "currents" to many of the county residents’ life stories. The Kankakee River has a much larger history, but perhaps no more exciting story, at least to a young 8 or 9 year old kid. At that young and extremely impressionable age, it was the most exciting place in the whole world, before the county dredged it and took out all of the wonderful twists and huge rocks, boulders and meandering bends with huge and deep holes, all of which made it a truly great place to find good fishing and some wonderful days in the "secret" swimmin’ holes.

Truth is, there were several huge boulders, upon which on many a warm and sunny morning or afternoon, this young "Tom" or "Huck", take your pick, could be found, if one were so inclined, to be laying face down, barely breathing, lost in total anticipation of the next large bass to dive in under those huge rocks on the upstream side of the stone, where the undercurrent had created huge holes. And where the bass, or so imagined this little adventurer, went to cool off and get out of the hot sun. It was the thrill of the hunt, the anticipation of a catch and the thought of holding another of the beautiful little bass, which kept him there, lying on that rock, hour after hour, till finally one of the bass would go under. Quickly, the lad would cup his hands together, go into the hole, trapping the bass and bringing it out to have a quick look, and just as quickly, after having lain there for sometimes several hours, allow the quarry to splash back into the water to go on its way. That was the total beauty of this creek. For those who have never played the "rock-hole fishing game", you have no idea the joy it brings, to actually catch one after hours of patient waiting.

Along its banks, in days gone by, were many places of true adventures. In the long-gone era, when this young man’s father was a youth growing up in this area on the farm that his father farmed, the creek was truly a slough. The system had large areas of marshy growth all along its length. There were and still are, in some remote areas close by, a few small remnants of those once vast slough and swampy marshes. There were plenty of pheasants, doves and squirrels, not to mention marshy areas teaming with the beautiful Red Winged Blackbird. Geese still come annually to this creek. Even now, some of these remnants hold a few beaver, along with many ducks, muskrats and rabbits, hunted still by local coyotes and fox.

Oh yes, if one knows the holes, there can still be some really good fishing, although unfortunately one does not seem to find catching a shiner as much of a thrill at 60 years old as they did at 6, 8 or 10 years old. Fortunately though, for this almost 60 year old – sometimes called a "kid" by his friends – can often still be found in some of the more remote areas of the creek, walking very slowly upstream in sneakers, wading and staying in the shadows and watching the ripples for small fish just waiting to come to the surface for a fly or a gnat. With just the right touch, this grown up big kid’s dry fly can look enough like a real morsel to excite a rock bass or a creek chub. The all important threads of life – the current which drove the Boy is the current seen in the Man.

In the late 50’s and early 60’s, and yes, even as a young man well into the 70’s, this was the boy’s/man’s passion; to hunt, fish, swim, canoe, camp out and otherwise spend every non-working or out of school minute somewhere along the banks of this creek. More nights were spent from 8 till 20+ years old camping along the creek year-round than most people spend camping who have luxury motor homes or lease vacation condos.

Unlike 40 or 50 years ago, one can no longer, really, use this creek as a canoe area or walk its miles, kicking this stone or picking up another to toss into the silent waters. But long ago, in a world vastly different from right now, this was a wonderful and mysterious and magical place for those who are, have been, and perhaps always will be, called by the current of life, to be and always wish to be, a child at heart.


Momence High School Visits the Forest Preserve

On a beautiful sunny day this fall, Momence students visited the Aroma Preserve for a field trip as part of their science curriculum. The Momence science classes have a "hands-on" morning in the woods as part of their science studies, each student collecting a variety of leaves to preserve and identify. A good time is had by all as the students enjoy getting out in nature and honing their "real world" citizen naturalist skills. The school has brought their students out to the Forest Preserve on this field trip or several years, and as "trail guide" I especially enjoy sharing with them one of my favorite activities at our Forest Preserve – a walk in nature.

------- Jean Hurrle, program director &"trail guide"

Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?
By Bridget Stutchbury
Biology Professor, Woodbridge, Ontario

Though a consumer may not be able to tell the difference, a striking red and blue Thomas the Tank Engine made in Wisconsin is not the same as one manufactured in China — the paint on the Chinese twin may contain dangerous levels of lead. In the same way, a plump red tomato from Florida is often not the same as one grown in Mexico. The imported fruits and vegetables found in our shopping carts in winter and early spring are grown with types and amounts of pesticides that would often be illegal in the United States.

In this case, the victims are North American songbirds. Bobolinks, called skunk blackbirds in some places, were once a common sight in the Eastern United States. In mating season, the male in his handsome tuxedo-like suit sings deliriously as he whirrs madly over the hayfields. Bobolink numbers have plummeted almost 50 percent in the last four decades, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey.

The birds are being poisoned on their wintering grounds by highly toxic pesticides. Rosalind Renfrew, a biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, captured bobolinks feeding in rice fields in Bolivia and took samples of their blood to test for pesticide exposure. She found that about half of the birds had drastically reduced levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme that affects brain and nerve cells — a sign of exposure to toxic chemicals.

Since the 1980s, pesticide use has increased fivefold in Latin America as countries have expanded their production of nontraditional crops to fuel the demand for fresh produce during winter in North America and Europe. Rice farmers in the region use monocrotophos, methamidophos and carbofuran, all agricultural chemicals that are rated Class I toxins by the World Health Organization, are highly toxic to birds, and are either restricted or banned in the United States. In countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, researchers have found that farmers spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous pesticides.

In the mid-1990s, American biologists used satellite tracking to follow Swainson's hawks to their wintering grounds in Argentina, where thousands of them were found dead from monocrotophos poisoning. Migratory songbirds like bobolinks, barn swallows and Eastern kingbirds are suffering mysterious population declines, and pesticides may well be to blame. A single application of a highly toxic pesticide to a field can kill seven to 25 songbirds per acre. About half the birds that researchers capture after such spraying are found to suffer from severely depressed neurological function.

Migratory birds, modern-day canaries in the coal mine, reveal an environmental problem hidden to consumers. Testing by the United States Food and Drug Administration shows that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three times as likely to violate Environmental Protection Agency standards for pesticide residues as the same foods grown in the United States. Some but not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing or peeling produce, but tests by the Centers for Disease Control show that most Americans carry traces of pesticides in their blood. American consumers can discourage this poisoning by avoiding foods that are bad for the environment, bad for farmers in Latin America and, in the worst cases, bad for their own families.

What should you put on your bird-friendly grocery list? Organic coffee, for one thing. Most mass-produced coffee is grown in open fields heavily treated with fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. In contrast, traditional small coffee farmers grow their beans under a canopy of tropical trees, which provide shade and essential nitrogen, and fertilize their soil naturally with leaf litter. Their organic, fair-trade coffee is now available in many coffee shops and supermarkets, and it is recommended by the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Organic bananas should also be on your list. Bananas are typically grown with one of the highest pesticide loads of any tropical crop. Although bananas present little risk of pesticide ingestion to the consumer, the environment where they are grown is heavily contaminated.

When it comes to nontraditional Latin American crops like melons, green beans, tomatoes, bell peppers and strawberries, it can be difficult to find any that are organically grown. We should buy these foods only if they are not imported from Latin America.

When spring arrives, we take it for granted that the birds' cheerful songs will fill the air when our apple trees blossom. But each year, as we continue to demand out-of-season fruits and vegetables, we ensure that fewer and fewer songbirds will return.

Bridget Stutchbury, a professor of biology at York University in Toronto, is the author of "Silence of the Songbirds."

Tale of a Denali Trek

With the first step I knew this place was special. The tracks made it so, as we proceeded up, "Social Trail", on Primrose Ridge, Mt. Margaret, and Denali. The thick willows grabbed at our backpacks and a fresh scar was laid across my left hand from a sharp edged branch, a cut I will hate to see heal as it will fade with my memory of this place. We prodded through the thickets and mud holes laden with bear tracks and reached freedom at the break above the tree line. The land became open and expansive with the first few steps.

I pity anyone who sees the high meadow tundra as a barren land, for it was rich with flowers and tiny ground plants, each attuned to low growth as an adaptation to such an unforgiving climate. The air was clean and thin and the higher we climbed, the more the shrubs diminished and the beauty of the tiny plants became apparent.

My spirit soared as the expansive view became more revealing. Only the altitude would allow those who desired it, to receive the gift of this perspective, the cost being only that of aching muscles. How could anyone in only one life time begin to truly know and appreciate such a magnificent place? We pitched our tent and slowly settled in, in an attempt to absorb the beauty of this place. The majestic valley of constant change and color, with winds from every direction, rain, sleet and snow, quickly followed by rainbows and sun, only to change again in a fleeting moment.

In the next few days, the mountain threw every possible scenario the summer would allow at us. Near hurricane force winds and every possible type of precipitation, only to clear again and calm and allow the mosquitoes to leave the rocks and harass us for a short while until a cloud would quickly drop the temperature and send them hiding again in their moist shadowed lairs. There days within a day as the temperatures varied with each cloud and gust of wind, and change was the only normalcy.

On a small ridge we placed our camp and for the first few days the power of this place consumed our time, no travel was needed as our eyes were filled with nurturing discovery with each absorbing look. A Dall Sheep appeared over the ridge and shared our little plateau for a while and below us in a hidden valley, caribou grazed on the low shrubs as the bears followed the thicket filled slews and the Aortic ground squirrels kept our attention with their humorous visits. On the second day, I decided to top the summit of Mt. Margaret, as the spring filled tundra became thicker and more lush with each climbing step.
Again the flowers were dominant, not allowing one to dismiss notice of them with their many colors and unusual shapes and my time was consumed with stopping and photographing each of them in hopes of remembrance as I cherished each pause. I have many landscapes, but the softness of the tundra seemed to invite one to walk barefooted and I took the opportunity at every occasion to do so.

Snow remained at the base of the summit ridge filled with moose and caribou tracks and through the top center pushed the remains of the heart of this mountain, a large formation of weathered, cracking and lichen covered dark rocks whose only sentinel was a curious Hoary Marmot who stood on his back legs and acknowledged my approach before retreating the rock pile it called home. And with the first summit reaching step, I was greeted with a passing snow storm, though fleeting yet substantial enough to turn my black coat a speckled white, before, as is such the personality of this place, it changed back again with a warmer shift of wind.

To describe the view completely would be to attempt to explain the Bible in one sentence or to dismiss the pyramids as a shed upon the landscape. Each direction held it's own personality, it's own environment and happening. The western slope was red with dry rock, the North, lush and green, the East, filled with the Savage River and thickets below and the view of the South consumed by tundra and the dominating figure of Denali, the Great One.
If not for the winters, I thought I might stay here a lifetime to love and learn from this wonderful place, I surely would have if the other me would allow it. And after a long reflection, I sorrowfully began my descent, stopping at the summit's rock base to drink freely from a spring from which ran a short stream into a beautifully flowing clear pool. The water held the taste of minerals and I thankfully drank the mountains nectar before returning down the wet, cushioned slope the lead back to camp.

And as I now sit next to the pond, listening to the familiar calls of toads and frogs, sounds missing and replaced by others in the mostly silent landscape of Denali, I can only think of how unfortunate it is that we humans have only the one life to love and discover such great places as this and the so many other wondrous offerings mother earth has given us to discover when we choose to know them.
                                                                                                                        ------------- Nighthawk



Board of Commissioners

 Ken Allers ............ ..................President
Michael Quigley ....................Treasurer
Amy Ciaccio-Jarvis.................Secretary
Steve Worth
Richard Weeks


  Mike Morgan ................Maintenance Supervisor
Doug Short ....................Site Development Director
    Jean Hurrle......................Program Director


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last updated on August 26, 2013