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Olson: DeKalb Nature Trail making slow comeback

The side of the DeKalb Park District Nature Trail in which ComEd cleared trees to avoid problems with power lines.
The side of the DeKalb Park District Nature Trail in which ComEd cleared trees to avoid problems with power lines.

It was a beautiful day Thursday, the kind of day that makes an editor look around his office and think: “Isn’t there something I could write about the Nature Trail today?”

As luck would have it, there was. It was almost exactly a year ago that News Editor Jillian Duchnowski wrote about the replanting effort by ComEd, the DeKalb Park District and the DeKalb County Forest Preserve at the park district’s trail. In late fall 2012, all the trees beneath the power lines were clear cut and chipped into bits to keep them from knocking down power lines.

The shrubs that were planted a year ago are still there, marked with yellow tags and with plastic tape tied to their branches that looks like it once was pink, or orange. Some seemed to be budding more by the minute on Thursday; others looked dormant still, or dead.

Despite the loss of trees, there’s still wildlife in the area, and lots of people, jogging or bicycling or just walking the path.

Jim Wordelman, who lives near the trail, was out for a walk. Although some people were reportedly moved to tears when the trees were cleared, he wasn’t quite so emotional.

“I’m kind of used to it now,” he told me.

Still, it will take more than a year before the trail is back to what it once was. The canopy that was there is largely gone. There’s more noise from traffic on Sycamore Road, and you can see more of the back sides of buildings and litter in the crick that flows near the path.

As coincidence would have it, DeKalb park commissioner Keith Nyquist and his wife were out bird watching on the trail that morning.

Nyquist, a pair of Nikon binoculars around his neck, said he’d like to see more work done to restore the trail, but there probably won’t be anything done until they find a new executive director. The park board held a series of closed meetings recently to interview candidates.

“It’s going to take some time to grow back, is the thing, and I know the park district has been looking at ways to rehab it a little bit more,” Nyquist said. “We’re kind of in a transitional stage right now. It’s hard to do anything very bold.”

This is a big season for migratory birds, and the Nyquists were out spotting woodland warblers. Pattie Nyquist rattled off a list of 10 warbler species they had seen in the past couple of days, including a Black-and-white, Louisiana waterthrush, Northern Perula, the Common Yellowthroat, and Indigo Bunting.

“This is the time of year that I really look forward to coming to the woods,” Pattie Nyquist said.

The trail is still worth a walk-through. It’s pretty and largely peaceful, and you can hear the birds singing in the trees and critters rustling around in the underbrush. But Pattie Nyquist also says it’s changed. She misses the green herons that used to nest in the marshy areas near Sycamore Road, and knows there are few birds that will stay because of the lack of habitat.

“There’s not as much water, there’s not as much habitat,” she said. “… The plants all did pretty well, there’s just not enough of them.”

The trail looks better than it did in December 2012, but it will take years before the area can recover and regrow. Opportunistic plants and weeds, along with some purple wildflowers, are growing over the ground that’s covered with the chipped-up remains of the trees that once stood there.

It probably wasn’t practical to have a tangle of tall trees interfering with power lines. But what the area becomes next, we’ll have to wait years to see. The shrubs planted there are not enough to fill the void. Sumac trees are growing up like fuzzy poles out of the ground, and eventually those may create a hedgerow that will make the path more closed in and can screen some of the backsides of buildings and provide cover for wildlife.

Hopefully there will be more progress to restoring the habitat in the months ahead, and more birds to see there next spring.

You should read: Make sure to check out Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary’s opinion piece on how the state of Illinois and Gov. Pat Quinn have decided not to use a route through Genoa for Amtrak service between Rockford in Chicago.

This despite the fact that the $223 million needed for infrastructure upgrades for the northern route will be 10 times as much as it would have cost to go through Genoa, and Northern Illinois University will be continue to be without any kind of passenger rail service.

Remember it, too, when the legislators in Springfield say that they simply have to keep the higher income tax in place for good and ever because they simply don’t have enough tax money to spend.

It seems obvious that political considerations are behind the switch. The route the state has chosen runs through Huntley – an exurban boomtown I once covered – and Belvidere.

Both are larger and probably more important than little Genoa in the mind of a governor who’s trying to win a re-election campaign in the fall. Who cares if it’s 10 times more expensive to do it that way? Oh, right – the people who pay the taxes. Or they should, anyway.

Happy Mother’s Day: To all the moms out there. You’re irreplaceable. Hope you get breakfast in bed or a dandelion bouquet, or a welcome phone call today.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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