HENNEPIN — The borders of the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge are inching their way south on Route 26. The Wetlands Initiative recently acquired 417 acres of land along the southeastern border to add to the refuge. The purchase brings the refuge’s total area to more than 3,000, and was closed on Dec. 17, 2014.
The land was previously owned by Vulcan Lands, Inc., which had leasing more than half of the area for farming. TWI purchased the land for $1.575 million, well below the appraised value of $2.164 million. The purchase was made possible by grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Grand Victoria Foundation and the Oberweiler Foundation, as well as a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund. Only 283 acres will be added to the refuge. The remaining 134 acres will be sold to help pay off the bridge loan and begin restoration on the new refuge land. Sale of the 134 acres will be subject to a permanent conservation easement that will prohibit mining and multiple home development.
Restoration of the new tract will begin in fall 2015. Nicknamed Hickory Hollow by TWI because of the wooded ravine and intermittent stream running through it, the tract includes several habitats that are now globally rare, including oak savanna and sand/dry prairie.
“We’re very excited to extend the landscape mosaic at the Dixon Refuge with these upland habitats once typical of the Illinois River Valley,” said TWI Executive Director Paul Botts. “Habitat fragmentation is a critical issue in conservation. Certain bird, reptile, and other species live part of the year in wet lowland areas but need drier upland areas for other parts of their life cycle.”
The new acreage will also buffer and protect the adjacent Dore Seep, an Illinois Nature Preserve located within the southern end of the Dixon Refuge. Seeps are rare wetlands found along the base of slopes where groundwater emerges, and the Dore Seep is the largest in the central Illinois River Valley.
Once restored, the addition will expand and improve habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife that have little suitable habitat remaining elsewhere in the region. In particular, the restoration is anticipated to increase breeding habitat for many grassland, savanna, and woodland migratory birds. The restoration will also benefit numerous migratory songbirds that will use the restored savanna and woodland habitats as an important stopover in a heavily agricultural area.
The Dixon Refuge is open to the public daily for hiking, birdwatching, and paddling. TWI plans to establish new trails through the Hickory Hollow addition, as well as a scenic overlook atop the bluff face.
The Dixon Waterfowl Refuge was established in 2001. It originally had been drained and farmed for nearly a century when TWI began restoring the site to the mix of prairies, wetlands, and backwater lakes once found there. In 2012, the Refuge was designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, one of only 36 such sites in the United States and the only one that is entirely a restoration. The Dixon Refuge is an Audubon Important Bird Area and also an official stop on the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway.