Palisades Nature Preserve: Partnerships for Preservation and Protection
Nestled in the scenic soaring bluffs along the Great Scenic Byway is the Palisades Nature Preserve, a 430-acre tract made possible through the hard work and cooperation of multiple organizations. These bluffs, remnant hill prairies, and other significant species and habitats associated with the Middle Mississippi Border Natural Division are protected within the preserve. Palisades Nature Preserve is owned by the Lewis and Clark Community College Foundation with a permanent conservation easement held by the Great Rivers Land Trust. Management partners, including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Division of Natural Heritage, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) and the Great Rivers Land Trust.
The preserve is one of the best examples of biologically and ecologically important lands in Illinois. Although second-growth, much of the preserve’s oak and hickory forests today are very much the same as they would have looked more than 100 years ago. Another important feature is the number of remnant loess hill prairies that are found at the preserve. The preserve as a whole supports many species in greatest conservation need and is located in the heart of the Mississippi flyway for migrating birds. Additionally, there is evidence that the preserve held cultural significance for Native American people.
The Palisades Nature Preserve provides critical habitat for endangered or threatened plant and animal species, including the timber rattlesnake, Indiana bat and two species of prickly pear cactus, as well as a host of songbirds. Although not “old-growth” per se, its forests contain multiple areas relatively undisturbed by humans, a unique situation in Illinois since less than one percent of “pre-settlement” forest currently exists today in Illinois.
When asked about this unique property, Ted Kratschmer, Station and Special Projects Manager for the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center at Lewis and Clark Community College (NGRREC/LC), replied succinctly, “it is only possible through partnerships.”
Recognizing the importance of this incredibly diverse and unique area, Great Rivers Land Trust initiated discussions with the Palisades owner, Adams Development Co., regarding permanent protection of the property through acquisition, a conservation easement, and a land management plan. In 2007, The Conservation Fund, one of the nation’s most well-known environmental non-profit organizations, facilitated the acquisition in collaboration with Great Rivers Land Trust, Lewis and Clark Community College Foundation, and Lewis and Clark Community College’s National Great Rivers Research and Education Center to form the Palisades Preserve. Because of the willingness of these collaborating partners, this land will be forever protected for environmental, scenic and educational purposes.
Kratschmer was quick to point out the number of partnerships, from individual volunteer stewardship opportunities to the number of internships and educational activities, that have been formed to better protect, manage and understand the unique Palisades Nature Preserve.
“The Palisades Preserve provides an ideal site for ecosystem research and education,” Kratschmer pointed out. “The National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, a unit of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, conducts and oversees research and education on the preserve.” Kratschmer also noted the existence of a world-class internship program that brings students from not just across the nation but from across the globe, and the partner organizations that make NGRREC successful.
In Kratschmer’s opinion one of the most successful educational partnerships is the long-term research project regarding Illinois-threatened timber rattlesnakes at Principia College. Research began in 2010 and continues to the present day. Researchers are collecting multiple types of data to determine how the snakes use their hibernacula (shelters for hibernating) on the bluffs. The initial study focused on the cues snakes use to determine when to emerge from their hibernacula in the spring. Thanks to the data collected, and because it was one of the first studies in Illinois to look at this particular data, IDNR used this data to develop and schedule specific management activities on the property, such as controlled/prescribed burns, so as not to interfere with the snakes’ emergence.
Kratschmer additionally stressed the importance of partnerships as they relate to meeting management issues related to the preserve.
“As with so many natural areas in Illinois, some of the biggest threats exist from invasive species and the encroachment of species not normally found in a particular ecosystem,” he explained. “Through partnerships with a variety of non-governmental organizations, nonprofits and volunteer groups, the ability to hold and adequately staff workdays and educational events is growing.”
The Palisades Nature Preserve may well rank as one of the best examples of utilizing a multitude of partnerships to protect and preserve our important natural spaces and important ecological systems and areas in Illinois.
While the Palisades Nature Preserve is not currently open to the public, NGRREC/L&C is able to host small groups for scheduled outings, and is working towards hosting more controlled access events in the future.
“The Palisades is a beautiful property with its bluff views of the Mississippi River and rare hill-prairie habitats, but it also requires a lot of effort when it comes to restoring and maintaining its natural communities and controlling invasive species,” Justin Shew, Conservation Program manager at NGRREC said. “Working with NGRREC’s Education Team and Habitat Strike Team we hope to organize and offer volunteer workdays combined with educational activities to help restore and promote rare priority hill prairie habitat.”
Interested in volunteering or attending educational programs at Palisades Nature Preserve? Reach out to the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center at (618) 468-2900 or visit www.ngrrec.org/.
Gretchen Steele hails from Coulterville, Illinois. Steele is a freelance outdoor communicator. Her award-winning work appears as a regular columnist and contributing feature writer for Heartland Outdoors, Illinois Outdoor News and several Illinois newspapers. She enjoys spending her time afield as a volunteer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Delta Waterfowl Foundation, Retrievers Unlimited and the Illinois Federation of Outdoor Resources. She is currently Vice President of Missouri Outdoor Communicators and a former board member of Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers.