In summing up 2017 on the dune, it didn’t seem an inspiring year. I was ill at the beginning and my work took me travelling all fall. But it wasn’t about me. Plants grew. Birds nested. The shoreline was protected. Dune life went on just like anywhere. So let’s see what I mean.
We didn’t have extensive plantings but there was growth. The cottonwoods have gotten tall enough that there is now vertical interest in the landscape. Cottonwoods are dune builders and belong there. We do try to limit them, and did dig out several. Little bluestem that we had seeded several years ago is now visible and the fall/winter colors have red mixed with the yellow and brown. I think it is the best year ever for fall color.
Three species of birds nested last year. It is still a difficult place to nest due to dogs and fireworks. Two of the nesting species are ground nesters and loose dogs like to go look. One tiny nest was in a small cottonwood. The fireworks on July 4th are very difficult for nesting birds. Many revelers see the dune as “empty” and thus the perfect place to launch fireworks. We know how full of life this “empty” area truly is!
The grasses planted to control erosion are controlling erosion. They have gathered about a foot of sand a year in height and widened out a bit. This has kept the sand on the beach and out of the playground, ballfields and lawn grass areas. Not only does the grass keep sand from blowing in from the beach, it has kept the sand from being washed back into the lake. During storms, particularly at the north end of the strip (by the ballfields) and the north end of the dune restoration, waves came up into the grasses and would have washed the beach away were the deep roots of the grass not holding the sand.
The plant life is becoming more robust. We monitor seven species that are of interest to the State of Illinois and Federally. Monitoring consists of a yearly count and description of any management efforts undertaken. There are 48 native species that live on the dune. On a scale of one to ten they average a rarity of 6. This is a good number indicating that it is a spot that is viable as a natural area.
We had a few small problems with vandalism and littering which is not new. But, as every year, our neighbors are very generous and pick up trash and report and/or try to repair the things vandalized. Even more gratifying was the outpouring (literally) of those who helped water the jack pines and the 350 new plants in the bird and butterfly garden.