AMBOY – A rare and fragile northern Illinois ecosystem, including some endangered turtles, now is protected by the Illinois Audubon Society.
The nonprofit organization on Tuesday announced its acquisition of the Amboy Marsh, a 272-acre wetland complex near the intersection of U.S. Route 52 and Morman Road about 3 miles south of Amboy.
The complex, interspersed with black oak savannas, sedge meadows and sand prairie, has unique natural features that are home to one of the largest populations of nesting Blanding’s turtles in the state, said Tom Clay, executive director of the Audubon Society.
Blanding’s turtles are medium-sized, semi-aquatic turtles, distinguished by their bright-yellow chins and yellow lower shells with symmetrically arranged dark blotches.
The turtles, like tortoises and sea turtles, can live to be 70 or 80, but they take 15 to 20 years to reach sexual maturity and have low reproductive potential.
Blanding’s turtles are an Illinois endangered species and a federal species of greatest conservation need.
The society received more than $1 million in grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and the Grand Victoria Foundation to buy the marsh and do some restoration work. The organization kicked in an additional $200,000 toward the project, Clay said.
Deb Carey, chairwoman of the Natural Area Guardian Committee of the Lee County Soil and Water Conservation District, has worked since the mid-1980s to bring the land under the protective wing of some kind of conservation-minded group.
“I have attempted to talk to numerous groups about purchasing it, but of course, it’s a lot of money and a lot of care. ...” she said. “We fortunately joined hands with the Illinois Audubon Society. They are great stewards of lands throughout Illinois. We are so fortunate that they came to Lee County.”
The Audubon Society, along with a to-be-formed marsh management team, soon will start restoration work at the site, which has been largely untouched, save for some mild row crop farming. The team then will turn to long-term stewardship of the land, Clay said.
“We hope that by this coming summer, we can have the marsh open to the public,” he said.
The marsh would be open to people for walking and bird-watching. It also could become a scientific research and environmental education resource for the region, as the marsh will be the northernmost sanctuary under the protection of the Audubon Society, Clay said.