Izaak Walton Nature Preserve is increasing its focus on the land's ecology. The organization created a Conservation Committee earlier this year to bring more expertise to bear on the challenges of keeping the preserve healthy.
Izaak Walton president John Brinkman said he decided to form the Conservation Committee in the summer of 2020 after the Dave Zaber, now the committee co-chair, informed him about an outbreak of the invasive species Eurasian Alder at the preserve. Brinkman said he had no idea about this outbreak until Zaber told him about it.
While it wasn't the only reason, this was the “triggering event” that caused Brinkman to form the Committee. Brinkman said Izaak Walton needed a team of experts to formally address issues of conservation for the preserve.
“I went to the board and said, ‘We need to get these folks that know a lot more than we do. We need to get them organized,’” said Brinkman. "We could get the best advice on natural issues from people with the best backgrounds."
After getting approval from the board, Brinkman began organizing the Conservation Committee in January of 2021. The first official meeting was in March. Brinkman described the Conservation Committee's goal as: “to address all manner of conservation issues that confront us when you’re operating the nature preserve.”
The Eurasian alder invasion was remedied early last fall, but with the committee in place, Brinkman hopes the preserve will be better prepared to meet the challenge of the next unwelcome species.
Since its inception, Izaak Walton has planted seeds in both the prairie and the woodland. Conservation Committee co-chair Kevin Jennings said much of committee’s agenda is figuring out what new seeds to plant after removing invasive species.
“We’ve been working for the last eight to 10 years just spraying – doing basically weed control,” said Jennings, referring to before the committee was formed and when he was on the Izaak Walton board. “The issue is that we haven’t been doing the other side of it. How do you enhance the preserve? How do you introduce species? Once you control something and push back on it, what do you replace it with?”
Before being co-chair of the Conservation Committee, Jennings was on the Izaak Walton Board. He said he's been spraying herbicides on a the invasive species phragmites for years, long before the formation of the committee.
"I'm a chemist by college. I was a chemistry teacher way back in the day," Jennings said. "That's how I got into spraying [herbicides]. Because I know chemistry."
The Chronicle previously reported that a new water pipeline was installed through the preserve. Izaak Walton officials are using the project as an opportunity to replace invasive vegetation with native vegetation.
The path of the water line runs mostly through woodland areas of the preserve, and it caused some concern among preserve users when construction started. One Chronicle reader said on Facebook, “they thrashed that path. It looks like Godzilla walked through. Did it have to be so wide?”
Improving the conditions of this area of the preserve is on the agenda of the Conservation Committee. Brinkman said they will be "heavily involved" in its restoration.
“It’s going to be a multi-year process to restore the 'path of destruction,' but it will be restored,” said Brinkman. “They will be planting trees and other shrubs and grasses. And we will work with the village and the restoration plan to make sure we pick out the best stuff.”
Jennings said the pipeline construction was “one of the factors” as to why the Conservation Committee was formed. He said that once they’re finished, the area will look even better than it did before the pipeline was built.
According to Brinkman and Jennings, the committee is here to stay.
“The committee will exist for as long as we’re maintaining this preserve,” said Brinkman.
“This isn’t a once and done thing. When you manage a property like this, there’s always going to be some challenge or something you can do to enhance it,” said Jennings.
In addition to being co-chaired by Jennings and Zaber, Izaak Walton’s Conservation Committee has six other members. Two of these members are Anthony Merisko and Brannon Wittenberg. Another member is James Helke, who Brinkman said has "a lot of experiences removing invasives in Indiana." Patty Messersmith, who is a member of the Homewood Science Center Board of Directors, is a member. Brinkman said she "teaches conservation and nature stuff" at the Museum of Science and Industry. Clayton Wassilak is another member. Brinkman said he's a recent graduate of Augustana College with a degree in the field. Finally, Carolyn Bury is a member of the committee. According to Brinkman, she works for the EPA in Chicago.
"A couple of the members, they live in Chicago. But their families are from Homewood. They grew up in Homewood," said Jennings. "This is what they do for a living. They do restoration. So, they have a wealth of knowledge.”
“It's quite a gang of experts. We're lucky to have them,” Brinkman said.