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Group seeks to expand park

Franklin natural area may grow in size

FRANKLIN GROVE – More and more acres are being set aside by land trusts throughout the U.S. – a trend with a local effect.

In 2010, the Franklin Creek Preservation Area Committee bought 80 acres near the Franklin Creek State Natural Area and is working to buy 40 more this year, said Bill Abate, a committee member.

“There is very little natural land left in the state of Illinois,” he said. “They call Illinois Prairieland, but less than 1 percent of land in Illinois is prairie. If what’s left is not preserved, it will all be gone.”

Abate said the committee is a latecomer in the land trust business, starting just 2 years ago. When it formed in 1981, its first task was to create the state natural area, which is near Franklin Grove in Lee County.

Then it rebuilt an 1800s-era gristmill along the creek, where it operates today. The group also built a handicapped-accessible fishing pier.

Now, the group is buying land.

“Our purpose is to acquire, preserve and protect prime natural land that borders the Franklin Creek State Natural Area or Franklin Creek,” said Abate, a Sterling resident who retired from General Electric 5 years ago.

The committee doesn’t intend to keep the land forever, but it wants to buy while it can. When the state regains its financial footing, the committee will transfer the land to the Department of Natural Resources, Abate said.

The group gets its money from grants and private donations, he said.

According to the Land Trust Alliance, the United States has 47 million acres protected by land trusts – an area twice the size of all the national parks in the lower 48 states.

That number has increased by 10 million acres in the past 5 years. The Midwest expanded its protected acreage by 82 percent in that time, the alliance says.

“While government is shrinking, local land trusts are saving more land than is lost to development,” alliance President Rand Wentworth said in a statement.

The Franklin land trust is one of 41 in Illinois and only one of 11 in the state that are all-volunteer.

The local committee’s members work as tour guides at the natural area and grind the corn at the mill for people to see, among other duties.

“It’s the only mill in the state of Illinois that is still run by water power, as all mills [once] were,” Abate said.

The group always is looking for volunteers, he added.

About the land trust group

The Franklin Creek State Natural Area is a mile northwest of the village of Franklin Grove, just north of state Route 38.

The Franklin Creek Preservation Area Committee is working to add acres to its land trust, which members hope to add to the state natural area eventually.

Contributions can be made to Franklin Creek Grist Mill, 1893 Twist Road, Franklin Grove, IL 61031. Make your checks payable to Franklin Grove Creek and Preservation Corp., which is the group’s legal name.

For more information, call 815-456-2878.

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