West Branch: Klein Fen, River Restoration And Wetland Mitigation Project

Image © Mark Baldwin

Overview
In July 2013 the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and DuPage County Stormwater Management began a 350-acre multiyear restoration project at West Branch Forest Preserve in Bartlett, which will restore 1 mile of the West Branch of the DuPage River, 90 acres of wetlands, the 34-acre Klein Fen (a rare type of wetland) and adjoining prairies. In addition to providing healthier habitat for native wildlife, the project will benefit residents by allowing the forest preserve to better accept and store stormwater.

At one time, the land that makes up West Branch Forest Preserve contained wet prairies, marshes and fens, and scattered woodlands, but these habitats were lost as farmers tilled the prairie and buried clay tiles to drain the soil for crops and pastures. The West Branch of the DuPage River was deepened and straightened to carry water away from agricultural fields and accommodate stormwater runoff, leading to further loss of habitat and floodwater protection. This hydrologic land use change coupled with stormwater drainage from surrounding developments all contributed to the currently altered landscape at the preserve and surrounding habitats. Aggressive and nonnative woody trees and shrubs, such as buckthorn and box elder, took advantage of the disturbance and invasive species populated these artificially-drained areas.

West Branch Forest Preserve and its trails will remain open during most of the work, which should be substantially completed by 2015, but visitors should be careful near construction areas and follow all signs and workers’ instructions. 

Click here to view a presentation on this restoration project.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Project Update
As work proceeds at West Branch Forest Preserve, visitors and nearby residents are seeing quite a change in the landscape, especially the removal of a number of trees, mostly buckthorn and secondary growth of soft hardwoods such as elm, ash, box elder, silver maple and cottonwood that invaded the area once farming stopped. When the work is completed, though, the Forest Preserve District will plant roughly 1,000 trees and 500 shrubs in the restored areas. Here’s a look at what’s taken place so far.

November 2013 Update 

Click here to see the most recent presentation on the project.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Wetland Restoration
This project is restoring 90 acres of wetlands to offset the loss of wetland habitat during the expansion of O’Hare Airport. The District is restoring an additional 30. To return the natural distribution of underground and surface water to these 120 acres, crews are removing buried agricultural tiles installed by farmers long ago to drain the soil. They’re also removing trees that spread along the drainage lines. This will not only allow the land to hold more water, especially after heavy rains, but also limit the amount of moisture that’s lost through plant respiration.

Klein Fen
A fen is a rare type of wetland that depends heavily on specific soil conditions and plant life. As with the wetland restoration described above, the removal of drain tiles and all trees will provide optimal conditions for this one-of-a-kind ecosystem. 

Along the River
As crews work to reconfigure the river, adding bends, riffles and pools — ideal habitat for a variety of aquatic life — they will need to remove most of the trees along the bank. The majority of these trees, though, will be reused in the river itself as root wads that will stabilize the bank and minimize erosion.

Native mussels were relocated into the river on Oct. 4, 2013. Watch a video here.

Prairie Restoration
By removing rows of trees planted throughout the forest preserve’s more open areas, the District is creating more than 200 acres of uninterrupted grassland. Areas like this are rare in this part of the state but are much-needed nesting habitats for grassland birds. Click here to view a photo gallery of a similar project at Springbrook Prairie.

Drainage Work Along Klein Road
All trees at two preserve areas along Klein Road will be removed to create two large dry wells. The wells will serve to interrupt existing drainage system patterns in a former agricultural field and a storm sewer line in a neighboring residential area. A new perforated drainage system will be buried between the wells to carry water to hydrate the preserve’s upper slope and distribute seepage to re-saturate the lower fen and floodplain. Although trees along this new drainage line and nonnatives in other areas of the preserve will be cleared, native oak and walnut trees will remain intact to complement the ecosystem.

For more information, please visit www.dupageco.org/wbdr 

Project Funding
The work is being funded by a $799,000 Illinois Environmental Protection Agency grant, Forest Preserve District development bonds, and money from the City of Chicago O’Hare Modernization Program, which the District and the county received to restore wetlands at the preserve to offset the loss of similar habitat during the expansion of O’Hare Airport.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and DuPage County Stormwater Management will begin a 350-acre multiyear restoration project at West Branch Forest Preserve in Bartlett, which will restore 1 mile of the West Branch of the DuPage River, 90 acres of wetlands, the 34-acre Klein Fen (a rare type of wetland) and adjoining prairies.

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