DIXON – The Dixon Park District is one of 22 recipients of a ComEd Green Region grant for open space projects.
ComEd partners with Openlands, a conservation organization based in Chicago, to administer the grant program. Awards of up to $10,000 are given to green space projects that focus on conservation, preservation and improvements to local parks and recreation resources.
The Dixon Park District will receive $1,416, which will be used by the Middle Rock River Conservation Partnership. The partnership oversees an expansive land conservation area, and the money will be used for radios needed to safely conduct prairie burns.
"The prescribed fires are an integral part of the partnership's land management efforts, and with all of the people involved, we must know where they all are during the burns," said Deb Carey, the park district's executive director.
Carey said the partnership has burned 1,465 acres of prairie just this spring – and that's not counting what's been done at the Nachusa Grasslands, which has its own burn team.
The Middle Rock River partnership was established in 2010 to consolidate three areas designated by the state as Conservation Opportunity Areas 5 years earlier.
"IDNR chose the best of the last good natural areas in the state, and we were fortunate to have three of the 14 COAs nearby," Carey said.
Those protected areas were Nachusa Grasslands, the Green River Lowlands, and the Rock River habitat from its entrance into northern Ogle County to the mouth of the Elkhorn Creek in Whiteside County.
When the state set up the COAs, Carey and several others wanted to start a local organization to act as stewards of the targeted land. They asked the state whether the three areas could be combined, based on the premise that if more partners were involved, more work could be done.
Carey said the partnership started with 35 entities, and it has been a model of efficiency. In addition to its preservation efforts, additional land has been acquired, including 283 acres for the The Wetlands Initiative’s Dixon Waterfowl Refuge.
"It's a good mix that has worked very well – we have people from park districts, soil and water conservation districts, fire departments, private landowners, individuals, and organizations such as the Illinois Audubon Society," Carey said.
ComEd, a division of Exelon, said the company has made the environment a focal point of its philanthropic work.
"At a time when protecting our environment is becoming increasingly more essential to ensure a sustainable future, it is important that we continue to find ways to support the people who are working hard to protect it," said Fidel Marquez, a spokesman for the state's largest electric company.
Openlands said its ultimate goal is to create a better quality of life for Chicago-area residents, and yet another partnership makes that possible.
"We want to create a healthy, vibrant environment for people, and with ComEd's help, we are able to help communities in Northern Illinois make that environmental goal a reality," Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann said.
This is the fourth year that ComEd and Openlands have awarded the Green Region grants.
Municipalities – Aurora, Clarendon Hills, Island Lake, Lake Zurich, Shabbona, South Holland, Streator, Warren
Park districts – Bensenville, Big Rock, Buffalo Grove, Carol Stream, Chicago, Dixon, Grayslake, Highland Park, Niles, Prospect Heights, Wheaton, Wilmette
Other – Libertyville Township Open Space District, Will County