Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge:  Friends Gathering June 2024
Tamarack West Parcel

On June 11, 2024, we held our Summer Gathering for the Friends of Hackmatack NWR.  The topic of this year’s Gathering was the celebration of the 985-acre parcel acquired by The Conservation Fund, Openlands, Illinois Audubon, and a number of organizations and individuals.

Board Members met early on this day to greet Chuck Traxler, Region III Asst. Director for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Cathy Nigg, retired Refuge Supervisor with USFWS, and many representatives from our Land Protection Partnership. We proceeded on a tour through various parts of the Refuge.

nippersink meander and kameMeandering Nippersink Creek, with restored kame

ed collins storytellerEd Collins telling the story of re-meandering Nippersink Creek

Our first stop brought us along the road within Glacial Park, where we could see the Nippersink Creek along a restored kame. Ed Collins entertained us with stories of how they re-meandered the creek from a straight trench back to it’s natural historic configuration. The kames that were destroyed by straightening the creek were also restored during the reconfiguration work.

Our next stop was at the Tamarack West site, where we had a beautiful view of restored oak savanna with Glacial Park beyond in the distance. The group photo that introduces this article was taken at this location.

original location of tamarack groveView of where there once was a stand of  Tamarack trees, taken while walking along the road that crosses through Tamarack Farms. 

Less than a mile to the East, we came to entrance road that runs through the length of the new parcel, Tamarack Farms.  The road runs through low-lying farmland, which will eventually have drain tiles removed so that it can return to it’s natural state of marsh land. Continuing the story of this land, Ed Collins described how measurements were taken in increcrements of “chains,” where 80 chains is one mile. Using historical references, they were able to determine where a grove of Tamarack trees once existed, and where we hope to restore a grove of our namesake trees.

tamarack farms farm fieldsSteve Byers and Ed Collins talk about plans for restoration.  Railroad line can be seen in the background. Can we envision a line from Chicago bringing people to a train stop at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge?

marsh overlook at tamarack farmsMarsh overlook 

oak savanna at tamarack farmsOak savannas abound on this property. The previous owners fell in love with this land, and learned about keeping an oak savanna healthy and free of invasive species.  The prosperous oaks tell the tale of success, as they are flourishing.

montelona farmMontelona Farm

We wrapped up the Executive tour at Montelona Farm, home of John Drummond & Rommy Lopat, who hosted an informal picnic dinner. Their historic home is located just a block from where we exited the road through Tamarack Farms.

chuck traxlerSteve Byers presenting Chuck Traxler with a Hackmatack cap.

After dinner, the group returned to the property to meet with the Friends of Hackmatack NWR members and the public for the official June Friends Gathering. An existing house provided a manicured lawn where we could set up a tent and gather together. Celebration and awards were in order, and we began by welcoming Chuck Traxler with a Hackmatack cap.

cathy niggCathy Nigg was presented with an award by  Nathaniel Kinney, Regional Lands Coordinator with Ducks Unlimited 

cathy niggCathy Nigg was also given the Hackmatack Hero Award for 2024

ed collins silver eagle awardEd Collins with the Silver Eagle Award, presented by Chuck Traxler, USFWS
(Ed Collins, Chuck Traxler, Cassie Skaggs, Cathy Nigg)

The unexpected highlight of the evening was when Chuck Traxler awarded Ed Collins with the Silver Eagle Award. This is the most prestigious external award given by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, given to those who have made exceptional conservation achievements in the Midwest Region.

As director of land preservation and natural resources for the McHenry County Conservation District, Ed Collins has been devoted to growing a connection for people to their natural world. With a career that spans 38 years with the McHenry County Conservation District, Collins is responsible for restoration and land preservation efforts on 26,000 acres. He has led several remarkable projects including the re-meandering of Nippersink Creek in Glacial Park, the first mapping of oak loss in the region that helped to establish Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and now, his significant role as part of the team that secured the 985-acre Tamarack Farms that is slated to become part of the refuge. Additionally, Collins teaches classes in Forensic Ecology and Ecological Spirituality, and currently serves as vice-chair of the Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. ~ Press Release, USFWS

viewing the headwaters of nippersink creek in tamarack farmsViewing a headwater stream.

A refuge update by Ed Collins started off our meeting, bringing us all up to date on the progress on our refuge.  After awards were presented, Ed led a tour through parts of the refuge.  We walked through an oak savanna, stopping to see a Tamarack tree.  Ed pointed out a headwater stream, noting that these streams travel south toward Glacial park, feeding the Nippersink creek. 

Viewing a headwater stream that feed the Nippersink Creek.

railroad bridge in tamarack farmsViewing the railroad trestle for an active rail line that runs through Tamarack Farms.

Thanks are in order to all who have helped make this possible!  

There is something special about the place we call  home, something still wild and primeval and elegant here. Perhaps it is an elegance that should belong not only to us, indeed in some way it should belong to the entire country and beyond that, it should belong to the ages. ~ Ed Collins

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