MOUNT MORRIS – The Byron Forest Preserve District more than doubled the size of its Bald Hill Prairie Preserve, thanks to an $837,600 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
The original 160-acre preserve at 5502 N. Silver Creek Road, northeast of Mount Morris, was acquired in November 2017 with the support of a previous $434,000 grant from the foundation, the forest preserve said in a news release.
The site, home to a rare gravel hill prairie ecosystem, has been known as Bald Hill to area residents for more than 150 years, and its unique steep gravel hill is named in the 1872 Ogle County Atlas.
At 380 acres, it’s now the third-largest preserve in the Byron district’s nine-preserve system, behind only the Jarrett Prairie Nature Preserve, with 641 acres, and the Stephen J. and Deirdre Nardi Equine Prairie Preserve, with 557 acres.
The new land addition will permanently protect the gravel hill prairie and oak savannas on the south slope of Bald Hill and provide additional open land to the east of the current preserve, the release said.
This hilly open prairie land provides important habitat for a variety of wildlife, most importantly for ground nesting birds.
Rare grassland bird species seen on the site include large numbers of bobolinks and Eastern meadowlarks as well as Henslow’s sparrows, short eared owls, and northern harriers.
The preserve is also the home of the Big Tree Champion for the State of Illinois, a huge eastern cottonwood that is 28.5 feet in circumference and 122 feet tall.
Go to www.byronforestpreserve.com to learn more about the forest preserve and its offerings.