Volunteers help restore native vegetation at Watershed Nature Center

EDWARDSVILLE – If you haven’t been to the Watershed Nature Center this year, then you’ll have a whole new experience, restaurant manager Tom Doyle said on Monday.

“People will notice a difference,” he noted.

The center completed its capital improvement project, Access Nature, a few months ago. Some additions include an outdoor classroom, water access point, and play area. The project also made improvements to the native plants of the center.

“It was very successful,” said Doyle. “People seem to really like it. “

While the improvements in Access Nature have been significant, they are not the only improvements underway in the watershed. Much effort goes behind the scenes, with a constant mission to improve natural habitats and restore them to their original state.

Over the past five years, Doyle and various volunteers have worked to remove invasive species and restore native plants to the center of nature and the watershed.

Invasive species are plants that have escaped cultivation and end up in nature reserves where they compete with native vegetation, Doyle explained. Two of the invasive species Doyle is currently focusing on are the bush honeysuckle and the winter creeper.

Doyle, who is the first person to take the paid post of restaurant manager, said he was “always on the ground doing restoration work”. Its objective is to make the habitats as close as possible to the conditions of establishment.

“It’s impossible, but it’s something you have to get as close to as possible,” he said, “to make it look like 100 years ago.”

Efforts to eliminate invasive species are just the start. Doyle said their goal is to remove the source of the invasive species from the center, so that when birds or other animals bring invasive seeds, they can better control the spread.

“This is something that will always have to be done,” he noted. “Even when I’m gone, someone will have to be here to restore.”

Doyle is a self-taught catering expert. He used to do restoration work in his own backyard, and when the volunteers at the center who once managed the grounds started looking for someone to take over the paid post six years ago, Doyle’s name was appeared.

Doyle said he loved his job, saying he was the “grumpy” in the middle and wouldn’t have done it any other way. He prefers to be in the field to work and improve the reserve.

“It’s like a game,” he said, “a game of chess.

“You have to know what you are doing. You might be planning to do something someday, but then you see something that you really need to take care of right away.

Regular center volunteer Mickey Davis agreed.

“It’s really a combination of planning and on the fly,” Davis said.

Doyle and the volunteers spent Saturday’s restoration day cleaning up bush honeysuckle and other debris from one of the ridges near the bike path near the watershed. Doyle said they probably still have a year to go before they complete the ridge. When everything is piled up, it will come back one day without too much wind or too much heat and will slowly burn off the remaining debris. This will remove any remaining invasive species and give native plants the opportunity to grow.

“A lot of the work we don’t have to do, nature does for us,” he said. “Sometimes it’s as easy as removing the shadow in an area that isn’t usually shaded.”

Doyle and the volunteers saw the result of their hard work this spring when the area they cleared last year bloomed with wildflowers for the first time in years.

“I can definitely say how much work the guys have done over the past five years,” said Dani Schaake, one of the volunteers who helped out on Saturday’s Food & Drink Day.

Restoration Days are an opportunity for individuals and groups to get out and make a difference. The events are led by Doyle, who uses his wealth of knowledge about the plants of the watershed to teach volunteers during water breaks about the project or the habitats they are working on.

“It really is a work experience and a learning experience,” said Davis.

Restoration Days are held on the second Saturday of each month, starting at 8:00 a.m. during the warmer months and 9:00 a.m. when the weather is cooler. The next major restoration project will be to paint the wooden structures on the land in “Brown National Park”. For more information or to register a group for a Food and Drink Day, contact the center at 618-692-7578 or [email protected]

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