All about prairie conservation efforts in Central Illinois

Feb 14, 2009

From the archive: Mission of the Prairie Monk: Awareness

This is one of the many articles contributed by the Prairie Monk for publication in the WEFT Revue.  It appears on this blog as part of an ongoing project to archive Monk's writings and make them more accessible to the community.

The aim of the Prairie Monk program is to create awareness about the world around us. This includes letting people know what is happening environmentally. We also want to provide people the opportunity to interact with each other in a manner that we hope will encourage listeners to enjoy and serve their natural and cultural landscape.

One of the ways by which we try to educate is by relating some of our own environmental experiences, excitements and disappointments, whether they pertain to planning and design or vernacular art. 

Often we will deal with a single topic at some depth. To that end we encourage guests to contribute often very special information.  At other times it seems more appropriate for us to announce activities and report on current events. At other times we will suggest action strategies and alternatives that we believe have merit. Sometimes we will combine several formats in an attempt to elucidate ecological relationships. We like to encourage involvement in a manner that is appropriate to the person's individuality.

Some of our topics are recurrent because they are on-going activities, such as prairie preservation or corridor development. Other topics deal with one-time events or features that we feel have biological or cultural significance.

Some of our radio discussions are inspired by call-ins that provide us with new insights, and we very much appreciate that style of program participation.

One paradigm that interests us a lot is the mechanism by which the public can be encouraged to contribute environmental projects. The evolving concept of "partnerships" which involve many people and agencies in a joint approach to project resolution is a case in point.  There are many such partnerships operating very effectively at the federal, state and local levels and they are bringing together agencies which in prior times have been rather more competitive than cooperative.

Typical of our program is a report on our experiences as we travel through the landscape on our way to meetings. We like to include travel observations when we discuss the meetings.

I recently attended a meeting of the Illinois River Coordinating Council at Momence, and I thought I would comment on that event to give readers unfamiliar with our program a feeling for our rather laid-back style. We tend to talk just as we would as if you were talking to us in person.

Not unusually, the Illinois River Council meeting became more than the meeting itself.

Firstly, the outward trip involved the growing season and the current cultivation practices that have changed dramatically over the last twenty years. In this time span "minimal till" policies have almost completely superseded deep fall plowing. This has reduced erosion considerably and it is encouraging to note that this degree of reform can occur.

The Illinois River Council Meeting, chaired by the Lieutenant Governor Corrine Wood, mainly focused on the Kankakee River basin and the integrated plan for its management. The Kankakee River has long been a topic of scientific and public concern because the upper reaches of the River drain a large basin that has a lot of sandy sediments. These sediments tend to erode and migrate, especially when they are disturbed. A lot of research has been directed to this watershed, and that was discussed. But the most interesting aspect of the meeting for me was how well the Kankakee River Basin Watershed Partnership is working as a mechanism for bringing people and agencies together to focus on a particular problem. 

"Partnerships" involving many community agencies have been working well, and the Kankakee River Partnership is a fine example.  Perhaps we have reached that level of sophistication where we can cooperate rather than compete (for funds especially). In East Central Illinois we are especially interested in using the "partnership" approach in the acquisition and development of rail bed greenways and trails so we look at the Kankakee partnership as a prototype.

After the meeting we were taken on a boat excursion that also served as a mixer where friends and relatives meet and exchange notes, and I like that opportunity.

The trip home started with an assessment of Old Town Muncie and the viability of its business district. Not too exciting, but not dead by any means, and many buildings remain intact. From there I made a historic stop at St. Anne, which is one of two Kankakee County towns that were settled by French Canadians. 

My next stop was a biological one. It was at the sand dunes that delineate the limits of the Kankakee River flood plain. Here there are swells and swales that are quite easy to discern. The region is sandy and the vegetation very specific for the Kankakee River.  On the knoll where I stopped I could see the dry area plants pushing their way up through the sand. Nearby was a mega hog farm which was taking advantage of the well drained soils but endangering the plants.

Moving on I headed south to Donovan, where there is a short line railroad I admire. The Kankakee, Beverville and Southern RR has seven antique diesel engines with which to service about fifty small elevators that would otherwise have to truck their grain by road at a comparatively much greater environmental cost. This group is doing well delivering to larger yards where unit car trains (125 cars) are assembled. Coincidentally the K B &S railroad rights-of-way are also prairie preservation sites. I do applaud this group, not only for their industry, but because they make us realize that it is possible to do what they have done and in the process help preserve railroading, railroading history and biology.

The men at the railroad helped me locate an old truss bridge on Sugar Creek near Milford. They told me the bridge was relocated from the Columbian exhibition of 1903.  The bridge and an adjacent cemetery and church are well worth visiting.

As I came past Cisna Park, I stopped to thank a farmer, Chesty Cluver, and his wife who recently gave us the chance to salvage barn wood. With the help of PACA (the Preservation and Conservation Association), this wood was sold and is now siding a workshop of quite some note. We applaud the fact the Cluvers didn't just burn the structure down. Earlier in the day, I saw a barn that was being torn down without the benefit of salvage.

I returned to Urbana via Route 150, which runs adjacent to the abandoned ConRail bed we are working to save as a greenway and trail, with railbanking as an option. I felt that my attendance at the Illinois River Coordinating Council meeting and my later stops gave me a boost to continue our conservation efforts.  It is this feeling that we would like to transmit to you, by way of our radio program.

Listen to David Monk and Bill Saylor at 11am on Sundays. 

—The WEFT Revue, Vol. 8 Issue 3: May-June 2000, p.6.

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