Restoring the Bottoms

by Beth Weimer

A dedicated group of volunteer conservationists is diligently working to restore an area known as Horseshoe Bottoms to its natural glacial prairie ecology. Located along Kickapoo Creek between Rocky Glen Park, St. Mary’s Cemetery and Madison Golf Course, the 200-acre area currently consists of cornfields and hillside woodlands, but the Friends of Horseshoe Bottoms envision their long-term restoration effort will create an area full of native wildlife and biodiversity, promoting community engagement and recreation.

The Horseshoe Bottoms Committee formed from core members of Friends of Rocky Glen, the nonprofit group that successfully advocated for the preservation and transformation of Rocky Glen into a public park. FORG President David Pittman formed the group in 2010, but has had his eye on Horseshoe Bottoms since the early nineties. The combined area is listed as an Illinois Natural Areas Inventory site, and less than one tenth of one percent of these 10,000-year-old glacial hill prairies remain.

The Greater Peoria Sanitary District and Peoria Park District each own part of Horseshoe Bottoms, and both have allowed FORG to access the land and develop a plan for its transformation and sustainable management. The committee is also consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wetlands Research Inc., and The Nature Conservancy, and hopes to involve adjacent landowners and the community as they proceed.

Since forming in 2017, volunteers have been cutting brush, propagating native plants, studying the soil and using prescribed burns to prepare the land. They’ve established six test plots to compare the most efficient and cost-effective ways to clear current growth and replant native prairie seed (carefully acquired from within a 100-mile radius to preserve the region’s genetic earmark).

More than just a prairie, the bowl-shaped depression will comprise wooded hills, savannah, prairie and ephemeral wetlands accommodating a range of flora and fauna. “I think this land is going to teach us what works and what doesn't,” says Pittman. “Resiliency and diversity will be key, because part of it floods every five years. So what we do is going to depend on what the land tells us will work, but the prairie is very adaptive.”

In the meantime, the group holds workdays, fundraisers, monthly meetings and guided hikes on the first Saturday of every month. Visit facebook.com/HorseshoeBtms or friendsofrockyglen.org to get involved. a&s


Join Friends of Rocky Glen on Saturday, October 20th for the Grand Opening Celebration of Rocky Glen to celebrate the newly completed trail, trail signage and trailhead kiosk. A brief ceremony kicks off at 10am, with guided hikes of the historic box canyon and hill prairies until 4pm. With limited parking on site, a free shuttle service will run from Jimmy’s Bar, 2801 W. Farmington Road. For more information, call (309) 573-2354 or email dvdgpittman@gmail.com.

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