JJC’s Oak Savannah gets a clean-up

With chainsaws revving and saws hacking away, the Natural Sciences Club, along with the Will County Forest Preserve, staged an Oak Savannah Cleanup early Saturday on Oct. 22.

Many people, from ages as young as nine to older than 80, showed up under chilly conditions to remove invasive species from the Oak Savannah that surrounds JJC.

The Natural Science Club has been hosting, and participating, in the Oak Savannah cleanup since 2005. There have been 24 events since they began, holding two per year.

“In the past five years we have covered a lot of ground in terms of removing buckthorn and burning to promote native species colonization,” Eva Murdoch, the Natural Science Club adviser, said.

Virginia Piekarski, the biology lab supervisor, explained why these invasive species are being removed.

“The buckthorn chokes out the native good stuff,” Piekarski said. “If you look at the honeysuckle and the amount of berries on them, it just spreads like wildfire. So what we wanna do is open this up so that we can get grasses and get good forbs, flowers, native stuff.”

Piekarski also said the invasive species need to be removed to prevent them from suffocating the native species, primarily concerning oak trees.

“The oak trees would be nice,” Andrew Neill, a professor of natural sciences, said. “We really haven’t seen many to any oak trees coming back in the understory; it’s something we need to monitor if we want oak trees.”

Murdoch said the project was meant to involve students and others in the community and to turn the campus to the state it was in before farming began in Illinois.

The Oak Savannah Cleanup is not only performed by members of the Natural Science Club.

“Today, the college contracts workers to perform the restoration maintenance for a large portion of JJC natural areas,” Perkarski said. “But the Volunteers and Natural Science Club members still continue to have work days in areas not maintained under the contract.”

This work is done by the McGinty Bros. Inc. under contract in the area between the bike trail and the college.

Richard Rivera, the assistant director for road and grounds division, said the contract with McGinty Bros., Inc. is annual.

“They have been our contractor since the beginning” Rivera said. “I think they’re going on about year 10 now. The first three years was the cutting out of the invasive, and then the remainder of the years was the maintenance of what was left.”

What followed was the use of herbicide and mowing to control the invasive species.

In the past three years, $110 thousand has been spent on the contract with McGinty Bros., Inc.

According to Rivera, the primary invasive species being removed are European buckthorn, honeysuckle, mulberry, multiflora rose, foxtail, reed canary grass and a few invasive grasses.

Neill said European buckthorn and amur honeysuckle are the primary concerns.

“Both are woody,” Neill said. “European buckthorn grows more like a tree; amur honeysuckle is more like a bush.”

Around 80 total participants showed up to the event, 25 of which were JJC students.

Other volunteers included members of the Will County Forest Preserve, students from the University of St. Francis, and a group from the Grace United Methodist Church in Joliet.

Michelle Fraser, the church’s director of Children and Youth Ministries, said they registered at the Make a Difference Day foundation and met up with the club and forest preserve at the time of the event.

“I think it’s going great,” Fraser said. “I’ve already heard from a couple of the kids; ‘can we do this next year?’”.

The Natural Science Club will be hosting another Oak Savannah cleanup event in April 2017.