BYRON – The Byron Forest Preserve District announced that it has more than doubled the size of their popular Bald Hill Prairie Preserve thanks to an $837,600 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
The original 160-acre Bald Hill Prairie Preserve located at 5502 North Silver Creek Road in Mount Morris was acquired in November 2017 with the support of another $434,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to protect the rare gravel hill prairie ecosystem.
The total size of this site is now 380 acres making it the third largest preserve in the Byron Forest Preserve District. Of all the other nine Byron Forest Preserve District preserve sites, only the Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve (641 acres) and Stephen J. and Deirdre Nardi Equine Prairie Preserve (557 acres) are larger.
The new land addition will permanently protect the gravel hill prairie and oak savannas located on the south slope of Bald Hill and provide additional open land to the east of the current preserve. This hilly open prairie land provides important habitat for a variety of wildlife, most importantly for ground nesting birds. Rare grassland bird species seen on the site include large numbers of bobolinks and Eastern meadowlarks as well as Henslow’s sparrows, short eared owls, and Northern harriers. The preserve is also the home of the Big Tree Champion for the State of Illinois, a huge Eastern cottonwood that is 28.5 feet in circumference and 122 feet tall.
The Byron Forest Preserve District purchased the 224 acre Richard Lenz Farm on Sept. 4 for a sale price of $1,396,000. The existing Lenz farm house and 4.5 acres of land surrounding it will be sold at public auction later this fall. With the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation grant and money from the sale of farm house, it is estimated that the total cost to purchase the additional 220 acres will be about $1,270 per acre coming from Byron Forest Preserve District taxpayers.
“We are very thankful that the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation awarded us a second grant to purchase the rest of Bald Hill in order to protect this rare natural land for future generations,” said Byron Forest Preserve District Executive Director Todd Tucker. “Mr. Lenz was so impressed with the amount of visitors to Bald Hill and the conservation work being done by our Restoration Department that he offered to sell us his adjoining farm property in order to increase the size of the preserve.”
Since the Bald Hill Prairie Preserve opened to the public in 2018, it has become the second most visited preserve in the Byron Forest Preserve District. People come to Bald Hill every day to see the Illinois Big Tree Champion and take in the amazing views. It is a popular spot for area hikers, runners and bird watchers. The new land addition will allow for future expanded public parking areas and trails.
The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation was established in December 1999 as an independent foundation with a $225 million endowment provided by Commonwealth Edison. Their mission is to improve energy efficiency, advance the development and use of renewable energy resources, and protect natural areas and wildlife habitat in communities across Illinois.
Over the past 16 years, the Foundation has provided financial support for clean energy investments in Illinois through a variety of programs. To date, they have awarded over 5,000 grants providing $258 million to Illinois nonprofit organizations, schools, municipalities and other local and state government agencies. The grants support activities in every one of Illinois' 102 counties.