Forest Faves: Willowbrook Wildlife Center Butterfly Garden
When Willowbrook Wildlife Center site manager Sandy Fejt needs a break from caring for injured native wildlife at the center, she doesn’t have to look far. One of Sandy’s favorite spots at the Glen Ellyn forest preserve is the butterfly garden. She helped with the original design of the garden and loves to teach visitors the benefits of creating a garden out of native plants. Sandy plays a large part in the District’s mission to grow and maintain milkweed plants to provide habitat and food for the struggling monarch butterfly population.
Visitors can pick up VIP (Very Important Pollinator) seed mix packets when visiting Willowbrook to help them attract butterflies and other pollinators to their own gardens. The packets contain seeds native to DuPage County and include rose milkweed, New England aster, wild bergamot, foxglove beardtongue, yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, stiff goldenrod and little bluestem.
Willowbrook’s 50 acres of preserves provide Fejt with a peaceful and intimate getaway. The one-mile nature trail provides an opportunity to learn about wildlife and the prairie, savanna, woodland and wetland habitats of the county. A half-mile outer loop and a shorter inner loop travel through 40 acres of restored habitats complete with interpretive signs and inviting benches. Fejt loves to take a stroll along the outdoor exhibit trail to see native animals such as bald and golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, owls, red foxes, groundhogs, raccoons and opossums. She also loves to visit a pair of state-threatened sandhill cranes in an enclosed wetland bird habitat at the preserve.
In August 2015, the District received the Vivian Ball Landscape Award from the village of Glen Ellyn for improvements made to Willowbrook Wildlife Center.
Fejt also loves to birdwatch at Willowbrook. She is always impressed by the social structure of birds and the variety of species. One of her favorites to observe is the chickadee.
Inside the Visitor Center, Fejt loves it when people visit the native wildlife that call the center home, see how Willowbrook helps injured or orphaned animals, and pick up tips for sharing their own backyard with the critters that live in DuPage County. Willowbrook is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2016. Located at 525 S. Park Blvd., the center is open daily 9 a.m. ‒ 5 p.m.
Fejt said she loves to see the looks on people’s faces when they look into the kitchen and nursery, where staff and volunteers prepare specialized diets and care for baby animals, and view exhibits featuring fish, birds, toads, frogs and turtles. Young visitors especially like stopping by the discovery area with games, puzzles, a puppet play station and other activities to explore.
Thousands of animals are brought to the center every year for care provided by Fejt and her dedicated staff and volunteers. Once an animal gets back into good health, it is released back into its habitat in a DuPage County Forest Preserve.
Throughout the year, Willowbrook offers a variety of fun programs on insects, birds of prey, mammals and natural history. For upcoming programs, click here.
Willowbrook is the only publicly funded facility in DuPage County and one of the few in northeastern Illinois equipped to treat native and migratory birds. The center treats more than 8,700 birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians a year.
Sandy Fejt, site manager of Willowbrook Wildlife Center.