HENNEPIN — With a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund and other support, the Wetlands Initiative (TWI) is adding new educational signage at its Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes, located south of the village of Hennepin in Putnam County.
The signs will be placed along the new Marquis Oak Ridge Trail, which received full funding in 2015 from site neighbor Marquis Energy of Hennepin. This 2.7-mile hiking and biking trail leads from the north end of the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge south to the center of the site, where it ends in a short loop around the 70-acre Oak Ridge area. Major construction on the trail has been completed, and it will officially open in the first half of 2016.
“As we open up the interior of the refuge to public access for the first time, interpretive signs are important so that visitors can learn more about these new places they’re exploring,” said Paul Botts, the Wetlands Initiative’s executive director. “We think the signs will really enhance people’s enjoyment of the site.”
Three new signs will cover the refuge’s drainage and restoration history, its rich marsh habitats, and the globally rare savanna being restored at Oak Ridge, along with information and photos of the plants and wildlife found in these ecosystems.
“Until our Hickory Hollow expansion is completed, Oak Ridge is the only area that will feature high-quality bur oak savanna anywhere at the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge,” said Gary Sullivan, TWI’s senior ecologist. “You can already see red-headed woodpeckers and bald eagles using Oak Ridge, and it has a great view over the diverse marsh habitats where waterfowl gather. This is a unique place with a lot of history, and we look forward to sharing that through the signs and trail.”
Individual donors to this project provided the private match for funding from the Illinois Wildlife Preservation Fund Grant Program. The program, offered through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is designed to preserve, protect, perpetuate, and enhance non-game wildlife and native plant resources of Illinois through preservation of an ecologically balanced environment. Funds for this grant program are from contributions made through the tax check-off on Illinois income tax returns.
Three other new signs about prairie and wetland habitats will also be placed near the north end of the Marquis Oak Ridge Trail. Those signs were created with support from Dynegy Hennepin Power Station and individual donors to the Wetlands Initiative.
Created in 2001, the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge is a habitat restoration project of the Wetlands Initiative that now totals more than 3,000 acres. The site is freely open to the public 365 days a year for hiking, nature viewing and photography, and excellent bird-watching. In addition to the soon-to-open Marquis Oak Ridge Trail, the site features an observation tower, a prairie-wetland boardwalk, and a mile-long Seep Trail that leads through the forested south end of the site from its boat launch parking lot.
The Wetlands Initiative is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the wetland resources of the Midwest to improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and biodiversity and reduce flood damage. TWI has been restoring and managing the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge since 2001.