Friday, November 8, 2013

The Fen at Sterne's Woods

I took a walk today through park lands managed by the Crystal Lake (IL) Park District.  We are visiting with my husband's family in the communities along the Fox River. The Fox rises in southeastern Wisconsin and flows south into the Illinois River. The Fox River valley was settled early in our country's history.  The fertile valley soils grew crops, the native forests were logged, mills lined the riverbanks.  The landscape changed, reworked by industrious settlers in the 19th century. But in the southwestern corner of McHenry County about 20 miles south of the Wisconsin State line, nearly 300 acres have survived as they have been for hundreds of years.  Sterne's Woods and Fen and the adjacent Veteran Acres should be in your walking plans this year.  Rolling hills, deciduous forest, pine fringe to a large wetland.  The wetland drains to the south and east where the run off and rising ground water offer nutrients and reduced soil acidity, and the acidic upland bog gives way to a fen.  This rich environment supports sedges, rushes, wildflowers and grasses.  These peat lands flourished in the northern states where low temperatures, short growing season, ample rain fall and high humidity allow ground to stay wet and groundwater to flow close to the surface.As settlers moved across the Illinois River they drained the bogs and fens for farmland.  Little is left now of this wetland habitat.  The same geography exists across the British Isles and Northern Europe where for many centuries peat was cut and dried for fuel.  Last year I wrote about the call in Great Britain to preserve the remaining bogs.  Luckily, The Crystal Lake Park District  has already done so.  Good thing.  Bogs and fens develop slowly as plants die and rot into saturated soil, adding less than an inch of peat in 100 years.

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