PEORIA HEIGHTS, Ill. (WMBD) — The wildflowers are in bloom at the Forest Park Nature Center.
“Right now, we have our spring ephemerals coming out,” said Kristi Shoemaker, Chief Naturalist at the Forest Park Nature Center. “Spring ephemerals are the first flowers to bloom in the woodlands… early in the year. They come out before the leaves are on the trees.”
This Peoria Heights woodland area is heavily guarded for conservation efforts.
“Forest Park Nature Center is a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve, which is the highest level of protection that a state can bestow upon a natural area,” Shoemaker said.
She said the pandemic limited the supply of volunteers. Those volunteers help maintain the hiking trails and recreation areas for the Peoria Park District.
A big project volunteers work on is pulling up garlic mustard root.
“The problem is this out-competes the native wildflowers,” Shoemaker said. “If there’s a lot of garlic mustard in an area, we won’t see a lot of the beneficial wildflowers that are good for pollinators and animals. This stuff pretty much takes over.”
Still, many native wildflowers persevere.
“Wildflowers don’t exist, again, in a bubble. We have native animals that really depend on those wildflowers,” said Program Coordinator Susie Grana Ingram. “Specifically, early-emergent pollinators — things like butterflies, things that arrive here or emerge here for the spring earlier than anything else. Early-emergent bumblebees rely on those wildflowers as, right now, really the only available sources of nectar and pollen.”
Ingram said the upkeep of Illinois nature preserves is not only good for the environment, but it is also good for us.
“It’s good for concentration, it’s good for general life outlook. It’s great for our physical health and getting a little bit of exercise,” Ingram said.
This is the second Earth Day the Peoria Park District has celebrated during a pandemic. COVID-19 has had an impact on their conservation efforts and their Earth Week festivities.
Still, the celebration persists. The park district has thrown an event every day of Earth Week.
On Friday, April 23, the Forest Park Nature Center will face off against Camp Wokanda in a Garlic Mustard removal contest.