It's Easy Being Green- Habitat Restoration at Severson Dells

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A pile of honeysuckle built in just a couple of hours.

A pile of honeysuckle built in just a couple of hours.

The students that come out on our field trips are excellent detectives. When they wander through the woods, they notice things that many people breeze past. Of course, like any good detective, they also ask a ton of questions. They notice hundreds of 3” tall stumps dotting the forest floor. Who cut down those trees? They gasp at the stark black and white ashes of a burn scar. Who was burning down the forest? Their eyes widen as they pass piles of brush that towers over them. Do we have giant beavers in our woods?

honeysuckle has invaded the understory of this forest

honeysuckle has invaded the understory of this forest

What our students are noticing is the remnants of an ongoing battle at Severson Dells Nature: Honeysuckle vs. our Conservation Crew. For those who aren’t familiar with the villain of this battle, Honeysuckle is a highly invasive shrub that was introduced to this area from Eurasia. It doesn’t take long for this plant to carpet the understory of forests, choking out native plants and doing a number on the species that depend on open woodland habitats. It can make a landscape completely unrecognizable once it moves in.

Our Conservation crew at the earth day restoration workday

Our Conservation crew at the earth day restoration workday

Luckily, Honeysuckle has a valiant opponent in our Restoration Workday Conservation Crew!  On the second Saturday and fourth Monday of every month, our Conservation Crew comes out to Severson to cut, pile, and burn honeysuckle. This crew is comprised of fitness enthusiasts, families, altruists, naturalists, students, retirees, and more-- everyone is welcome. These volunteers are united by a desire to do good, and everyone contributes their unique talents toward our cause. Everyone works at their own pace and chooses what work they feel most comfortable with. Severson Dells provides all of the tools and personal protective equipment required, so anyone willing to help can come and join the fight!

A volunteer cutting honeysuckle with loppers

A volunteer cutting honeysuckle with loppers

As mentioned before, our honeysuckle removal process is strikingly simple: cute, pile, and burn. Using loppers, hand saws, and bow saws, we cut honeysuckle as close to the ground as we can. We then bring our honeysuckle carnage to a central pile and burn it. Its cuttings are notorious for rooting after they have been cut, so that is part of our motivation to burn it. We also burn to clear up space for native species to move into. Though it’s a simple process, removing it from an entire forest is a daunting task to take on alone due to its abundance. A group of volunteers makes the process much faster!

In the battle of Honeysuckle vs. Conservation Crew, our Conservation Crew is gaining a lot of ground. The inside of our paved loop is almost clear, and the woods between the Nature Center and Montague have been cleared thanks to funding from a Rusty Patched Bumblebee grant. Our team enjoys support from generous donors like the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, which provided at 3 to 1 matching grant of up to $21,000. This means that for every dollar we raise the Foundation will award us $3. Additionally the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation will award Severson Dells $4,000 once our Conservation Crew has contributed 400 volunteer hours towards habitat restoration. We had until October 2019 to complete these volunteer hours, but our dedicated crew completed these hours on April 22nd this year! How appropriate that we met this goal on Earth Day. We are also supported by Nicholson Hardware, who allowed us to purchase hand tools and safety equipment at cost allowing our grant money to go much further.  


If you feel a call to action stirring within you, we would love it if you came out to give restoration work a try! You can join us on the second Saturday or fourth Monday of any month from 9AM-12PM. Please let our Naturalist, Andrea Wallace, know if you are planning on coming by emailing her at andrea@seversondells.org or calling 815-335-2915.