Improving Campus Sustainability One Green Space at a Time

by C. Eliana Brown, RORG Director

As you may know, the Red Oak Rain Garden was awarded an ICECF Community Stewardship grant (in partnership with the CCDC). We are grateful for this award as it, in conjunction with our SSC awards, allows for completion of the garden’s renovation. But this grant does even more than that.

In addition to the Red Oak Rain Garden, this grant includes improvements for its “neighbors:”  Dorner Drive Retention Pond and Illini Grove natural areas. It makes it possible for these spaces to become landscape sustainability demonstration sites. Further, when the projects are completed, we’ll have two more spaces to add to the Bee Campus pollinator map. Since these spaces are contiguous, they form a green corridor, which is important for wildlife.

*UPDATED 9/23/2021*

Approximately 10 years ago, Dorner Drive Retention Pond’s banks were designated as one of campus’ low mow zones. The RORG team, in partnership with Facilities & Services and Extension Educator Erin Harper, is helping to take the sustainability one step further. The grant funds a conversion from low mow to high quality vegetation.

Over the past several weeks, our team has been busy working with the F&S Grounds Crew to prep the area around the pond to be seeded with a seed mix of Illinois native plants. Additionally, Extension Educator Ryan Pankau led a pruning workshop for volunteers, and Erin Harper and RORG Landscape Designer Layne Knoche have wrapped up the tree work. In total, 45 thirty-year-old trees were pruned for the first time!

Thirty-year-old serviceberries have gotten a much needed makeover. Invasive Honeysuckle and Buckthorn (seen growing under the canopies) will be treated and removed in the coming weeks. Photos by Erin Harper.

Currently, existing ground vegetation is being treated to eliminate all of the non-native plants. This will allow a high-quality Illinois native seed mix to grow over the coming years. This new landscape will provide pollinator habitat, water quality benefits, and will serve as a model for future restorations campus wide.

Select areas around the pond will remain as mowed grass so people can still relax and gather on the slopes as they do now.

Dorner Drive Retention Pond Conceptual Plan by Layne Knoche

Dorner Drive Retention Pond is a stormwater pond, of which there are hundreds all over the state of Illinois. As such, this project can serve as a model for naturalizing this kind of pond. We are working with researchers to capture changes in insect populations as a result of the landscape changes.

The pond was originally designed by Professor Jie Hu when he was a graduate student. He recently returned to Illinois as faculty in the Department of Landscape Architecture. He happens to serve with our own Kate Gardiner on iSEE’s Engagement SWATeam. Kate invited him to speak to us about his design and about landscape sustainability, which was a great experience.

Illini Grove was planted in 1871 as part of a ACES Research project. As such, it’s nice that we, as ACES Extension employees, get to play a role with it again. Much of the understory is grass and the grant allows us to add ephemerals. RORG’s designer Layne Knoche worked with campus landscape architect Brent Lewis on the plan. These plants will emerge in the spring, providing much needed nectar for early-season pollinators. As ephemerals, they will “disappear” in time for the first mowing.

The space is managed by Campus Rec and we’re grateful to Assistant Director Terry Elmore for permission to realize this plan.

We couldn’t be more thankful for the support we have received. We are so excited to see this part of campus grow into a demonstration space where students and community members can learn more about sustainable practices. 🌸

Students from ASLA student chapter with Layne Knoche (right) installing spring ephemerals at Illini Grove. Photo by Sandra Bjerga.
An East Central Illinois Master Naturalist admires his pruning work at Dorner Drive Retention Pond. Photo by Layne Knoche.

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