ICO Meets Hackmatack – Weekend Trip
And oh what fun we had!
This Inner City Outing (ICO) trip included teens from both Pritzer High School and Chicago Youth Centers (CYC) – Centro Nuestro. The trip started with a "Welcome talk" from Ed Collins in the Lost Valley Visitor Center at Glacial Park, an excellent example of a "green building." Cindy Skrukrud organized a treasure hunt and hike through the hilly landscape of McHenry County IL. The hike helped the teens stretch their legs after a long ride and learn about the native plants and animals of the area and included finding a tiger salamander.
We had lunch at the Visitor Center, then headed north across the Wisconsin border to Big Foot Beach State Park. The teens were then divided randomly into groups with one group kayaking and the other cutting and removing invasive European buckthorn and Japanese honeysuckle. Several hours later, the teens switched activities - and they were just as excited about kayaking as they were about cutting buckthorn. If you have never joined in a prairie restoration activity, let me assure you that "buckthorn" is well-named. The thorns on this bush can be three inches long.
The teens worked in both Glacial Park and in Big Foot Beach State Park because both are part of the proposed Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. An area that includes a network of public lands set aside specifically to protect wild animals and plants. Several state threatened and endangered species can be found there. In addition, revenue for this Refuge could add a welcome boost to the local economy, as refuges are known to bring in visitors such as birdwatchers, hikers and hunters. The closest current wildlife refuge is Horicon NWR, almost 100 miles away.
Sunday was a drizzly day and the teens donned rain gear, many of which were donated by REI, and collected prairie seed with Friends of Hackmatack. Mussel hunting and macroinvertebrate discovery in the North Branch of Nippersink Creek was our final activity of the weekend. We found one mussel two fish, three crayfish, and water bugs.
Our weekend ended back at Glacial Park where all were able to have a warm, dry lunch before heading back home.
Thank you to Friends of Hackmatack, Friends of Big Foot Beach State Park, Cindy Skrukrud, Ed Collins, ICO volunteers and the leaders from both Pritzer High School and Central Youth Center- Centro Nuestro. Thank you also to the great group of teens that made this trip a truly wonderful weekend.
– by Donna Hriljac
– Photos by Colin Tysoe
The teens wrote letters to US Fish & Wildlife Service urging them to make this area a refuge.