As part of its mission to “inspire the naturalist in all of us,” Hickory Knolls Discovery Center promotes and supports environmental awareness. It’s not enough to merely enjoy the natural world around us; it’s our duty to protect it by supporting pollinators, recycling materials and resources, removing invasive species and restoring native plants.
Find out more about how Hickory Knolls is supporting these and other environmental efforts below. Then, go to our Volunteering Page and find out more about how you can help!
Posted along trail heads and in natural areas, eye-catching “We Support Pollinators” signs showcase the St. Charles Park District’s habitats that attract monarch butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other plant pollinators that are essential to a healthy environment and demonstrate the important relationships between native plants and pollinating species.
Protecting the habitat such pollinators need in order to thrive is vital not only to these birds, butterflies and insects, it is also critical to the quality of life humans enjoy as well. The plants these various species help pollinate bring fruits, vegetables, nuts, fibers, oils and raw materials, and help stabilize soil erosion and increase carbon sequestration.
Providing protected habitats is important because some pollinators migrate and need to be able to locate the host plants they depend upon along the way. The Monarch butterfly, for example, is one such species which requires plants in the milkweed family for egg laying and larvae development as multiple generations are needed to complete the migration.
Located outside just northwest of Hickory Knolls is a Bee House that provides nesting sites for the solitary, native bees of Illinois. Using a sliding-cover design, this structure was created to shelter the nesting tubes containing developing larvae from the previous breeding season. The holes in the base of the structure allow the young bees to escape each spring. The exposed side will then be covered by this sliding sign in the fall to protect the nesting bees from the elements and from predators. The sign will switch from side to side each fall season, once all of the occupants have exited the structure. This sliding-cover design allows for annual maintenance of the structure. Special thanks is extended to St. Charles resident and volunteer Carolyn Erwin for her leadership on this project.
This kind of house is designed to attract solitary bees, such as leaf-cutter and carpenter bees, that do not live in colonies. With 400+ species of native Illinois bees, we are hoping to attract a varied biodiveristy in the type of bees that use this house.
The biodiversity of plants available to pollinators is a key factor in the success of the bee house. Not only do they require a variety of native plants for their food sources, they also are looking for suitable nesting material. Plants like Great Angelica, Evening Primrose, Joe Pye Weed, Rattlesnake Master, and Purple Coneflower have hollow stems that bees desire. Other material like pine cones, logs and branches attract bees that like to drill into wood to create their own nests.
Solitary bees are fascinating creatures; some don’t even have stingers and they are not protective like honey bees. Many people have an innate fear of bees, so we’re hoping this new bee house can help overcome some of those misgivings and let people know how non-threatening these species are and how beneficial they are to our environment.
Want to find out more? Check out the “Pollin8: In Praise of Illinois Pollinators” exhibit at Hickory Knolls. See an indoor, observation honey bee hive with a tube connecting to the outdoors so you can see worker bees fly in and out as they collect nectar and pollen to keep their colony thriving. Special thanks is extended to the St. Charles Kiwanis Club for supporting this educational display.
Here at the St. Charles Park District, we’re big into small things… seeds, for example!
Did you know that in 2015, naturalist staff and volunteers collected seeds from more than 150 different species of native plants? Everything from the Smooth Blue Aster (Aster laevis) to the Little Blue Stem (Andropogon scoparius). Any idea why we’d devote huge amount of time to collecting such tiny resources?
The answer is simple – seed collecting preserves our natural areas and saves money.
Collected specimens are used whenever the district does any kind of restoration, otherwise invasive species move in. If an area has been cleared due to removal of trees or some other disturbance, restoring the land using seeds from native plants ensures that the parks maintain a healthy level of plant diversity and that the plants used stand a good chance of surviving.
Seed collecting also saves the park district money. Not only are many seed types unavailable through commercial markets, if they were, they would be cost-prohibitive to buy in the quantities the park district would need for large restoration efforts. In fact, although the district does buy some additional seeds each year, seed collecting and propagating saves thousands of dollars.
Currently, Manager of Natural Areas Denis Kania estimates that the naturalist department maintains approximately 130 flats of native plants grown from seeds they’ve collected. Depending on the particular species, a flat could cost on average of $50 if the park district were to purchase it from a commercial supplier. That’s a savings to tax payers of approximately $6,500.
While seed collecting may be a very frugal enterprise, it’s also a very fruitful endeavor for the park district and other organizations. Kania and his staff not only disperse seeds collected in the park district, they also swap seed species with organizations such as Fermilab and the Glen Ellyn Park District, finding seeds that are otherwise unattainable due to cost or availability. These practices ensure local seeds from a local source – resulting in healthier, hardier and more adaptable native plants.
To find out more about seed collecting or to volunteer your time, contact Denis Kania at firstname.lastname@example.org or 630-513-4367.
Dark Skies Program
Have you ever seen the stars? Like really seen them. Not just the Big Dipper or Orion’s Belt, but all the little tiny dots of light in between? For many people, the stars will always be just out of sight because of the light pollution created by our cities, our homes and our businesses.
Hickory Knolls and other natural areas and parks around the world are fighting to ensure we all have places to see the stars. In 2011, Hickory Knolls was designated as a StarPark by the “One Star at a Time” program – joining the worldwide effort to preserve humanity’s heritage of connecting with the starlit firmament.
Like all other St. Charles Park District parks, Hickory Knolls closes at dusk; however, as part of our mission to make dark skies available to the Fox River Valley, Hickory Knolls occasionally hosts star gazing events and activities. Keep an eye on our seasonal activity guide to find out what nights you can see the stars at the Knolls!
For more information about the “One Star at a Time” program and the Global StarPark Network: click here