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Volunteers gather for Prairie Park cleanup in DeKalb

DeKALB – Samantha DeDina of Genoa was excited to start another park cleanup Saturday morning at Prairie Park in DeKalb.

DeDina, a maintenance superintendent with ENCAP Inc. – a DeKalb-based environmental consulting firm and native landscape preservation company – recently finished a similar effort March 11 with ENCAP and the city of Genoa. She and her husband, also an ENCAP employee, heard about the Prairie Park cleanup and couldn’t wait to help.

“It’s not my first cleanup,” she said with a smile.

Volunteers gathered at Prairie Park in DeKalb for a park cleanup Saturday. The volunteers brought hot coffee and doughnuts and got to work preparing the park for spring and summer visitors.

“We’re clearing large branches from the nonpaved trails, and most importantly, clear out as much honeysuckle as we can,” said Todd Bex, park supervisor for the DeKalb Park District.

Jeff Perry of DeKalb, who works as summer help for the Park District, also came out for the cleanup.

“I’ve been doing this for five seasons, and I always look forward to it,” he said.

DeKalb Park District Executive Director Amy Doll was equally excited to start 2017’s yearlong plan of cleanups.

“We’re establishing a monthly cleanup,” she said. “We’ll come out and pick out a section [of the park] and remove a particular species for a couple hours.”

There will be a project a month in the spring before skipping the summertime, and the projects will resume in the fall.

Doll said she hopes the cleaner park will encourage more people to explore off the paved paths.

“Where it’s open, people will come,” she said. “Cleaning opens more sections of the park for people who want to explore. It encourages people to go off the pavement.”

After projects to clean the Kishwaukee River shore and clear away buckthorn from Prairie Park in 2016, park officials are starting off this year focusing on honeysuckle.

“It’s an invasive plant,” Doll said. “After we remove it, it gives native plants a better chance.”

When spring comes, the park officials hope the open area will look more beautiful and inviting after they clear out the overgrowth in the park.

Doll elaborated on the future plans for the park. With the help of the city of DeKalb, she hopes there will be a trail added to connect Prairie Park – underneath the railroad tracks under Lincoln Highway – to the trails by the lagoon on the Northern Illinois University campus.

“It’s a joint effort, coordinating with federal funding, right of way, the railroad company and the Illinois Department of Transportation,” Doll said. “But I believe it’ll be a really good thing for the community.”

Park board member Dag Grada said he expects the volunteer cleanup efforts will continue to grow.

“We did five projects last year,” he said. “We’re only going to build from here.”

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