Prospect Heights Natural Resources Commission
Prospect Heights Bike Trail and ComEd Right of Way Native Habitat Improvement
Prospect Heights Bike Trail and Com Ed Right of Way Native Habitat Improvement Plan
The City of Prospect Heights plans to restore 50 acres of natural prairie habitat along the bike paths and right of way in order to improve the native habitat for flora and fauna, connect existing native areas and improve the outdoor experience of local residents. We are requesting grant funding from ComEd for the initial 5 acres of the overall project.
Illinois is called a Prairie State, yet only 0.01% of this once dominant habitat persists, having been decimated for urban, suburban and agricultural reasons and needs. Prospect Heights is an area that is lucky to have some preserved green space, however most of it has been strongly degraded by adjacent developments and non-native plant species that do not support wildlife.
Much research has been done regarding the importance of wildlife corridors or connections between habitat sites. According to Illinois Wildlife Action Plan and other planning documents by Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and Chicago Wilderness, wildlife corridors provide a vital lifeline to the existing fauna, allowing them to migrate and identify habitats with natural resources such as food, water and shelter to ensure that their species flourishes.
The Prospect Heights 4-mile bike trail not only provides passive recreation and connectivity for Prospect Heights and the surrounding communities, but also lies within 60 acres of open land and adjacent Com Ed right-of-way. This land along the bike trail connects important pockets of both small and large areas of native habitat, such as wooded lots, McDonald Creek, and open spaces within Park District’s property. These areas are home to important water quality features such as wetlands which also help provide flooding mitigation for the nearby residents.
Historically, based on the original land surveys, the project area was mostly prairie, interspersed with sloughs and small creeks. Early aerial photographs and land use history, however, indicate that the land has been plowed and farmed. Therefore, any native vegetation or remaining seed bank is highly unlikely along most of the bike trail path.
Currently, most of the open land along the bike trail contains turf grass and other non-native or invasive plants which do not provide food or shelter for wildlife. In its current state, the area serves as an obstacle rather than an important natural corridor. It does not provide any aesthetic value to the community at large, and some of the invasive species even pose a threat to public health, such as wild parsnip. The area requires regular maintenance by ComEd employees; naturalizing this area will drastically reduce the time and resources necessary for this area.
Public education is a critical component of this project’s success. This project provides an opportunity to increase environmental awareness for children and the surrounding communities. This will be done through the City’s Volunteer Stewardship to manage the natural areas and promote long-term sustainability. The project will provide water quality benefits, recreation, education, and fosters a rewarding connection to nature and personal satisfaction. Moreover, interpretive signage will be erected at the project site noting some of the funding sources were from ComEd.
This project will promote and encourage community members to become stewards of their local natural resources and initiate a long-term volunteer network. Volunteers will be supervised by a trained community member, who has experience in Steward leadership. Workdays will be conducted on a regular biweekly schedule and will occur at both sites of this project.
Goals of Project
• To increase biodiversity in open land adjacent to the bike trail and right of way through the reintroduction of native vegetation.
Ultimate goal is to plant 40-50 acres of open space along bike trail with native prairie vegetation.
• To provide a wildlife corridor linking important remaining natural areas, in order to facilitate migration and breeding of many
species of wildlife, as well as provide much needed food and shelter.
• To increase the aesthetic value of the current bike trail for Prospect Heights residents and local communities.
• To educate the public and increase environmental awareness.
• To encourage volunteer involvement, community building and stewardship of natural areas. This will promote sustainability
and long-term viability of project site.