Reclaiming Land For Nature: Harper’s Farm in Ottawa

When our Vice President of Land & Water Conservation Programs Dan Lobbes describes our newest land preservation acquisition as “lumpy and bumpy,” he means it both literally and figuratively. The 115-acre property known as Harper’s Farm sits on the Illinois River just a couple of blocks east from downtown Ottawa. Early in the 20th century, it was mined for coal, and still bears the scars.

It’s also the recipient of frequent overflow floodwaters from the nearby Fox River. These floodwaters pick up pollutants as they flow through the residential area sitting between the Fox and Harper’s Farm, and the property’s location makes it an important barrier to keep these pollutants from reaching the Illinois River.

Spoil piles from the former mining operations are what give the terrain its lumps and bumps, and widespread trash heaps and litter abound. By the end of a recent exploratory trip to the property, we could have fully furnished a home, including a home office, with the discarded television set, computer monitor, dresser, toilet, and multiple easy chairs we came across in our wanderings. Ecologically speaking, there is plenty of trash as well in the form of invasive species like phragmites, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and garlic mustard.

But among all of this trash, there is plenty of treasure. There are charming little pocket wetlands all over the property, and let me tell you, judging from the cacophony of mid-March song, the Chorus Frogs of Harper’s Farm think they’re in paradise. There are also a handful of larger ponds with abundant sign of beaver activity, and acres of very pleasant woodlands. I saw at least 12 white-tailed deer move through as we were poking around the woodland area, and a pair of red-shouldered hawks seemed to be flirting with us. The constant drilling sounds and large holes we observed in several trees indicate the presence of the pileated woodpecker, and a contractor that was looking over the site to give us some input into its ecological restoration recently sighted the elusive bobcat in the woodland area as well!

It’s always exciting to preserve lands still in a natural state like Belrose Farm, but it’s equally exciting about the opportunity to reclaim abused land for nature, like we were able to do last year in Minooka thanks to your support, and like we have the opportunity to do now at Harper’s Farm. Harper’s Farm has certainly felt the impact of the vibrant city bustling around it, but through preservation and restoration, it could become a true natural amenity and important stormwater management site for the Ottawa community. We at The Conservation Foundation already own Mitchell Woods, an adjacent forested natural area, and the City of Ottawa owns some contiguous open space as well.

Several generous partners and donors are making it possible for us to pursue our vision of taking Harper’s Farm out of the rough and turning it into a diamond. The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Wetlands Initiative, Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Heritage Harbor, local businessmen Tom & Jeff Heimsoth, and the City of Ottawa have and will continue to be indispensable community partners on this project. The personal financial contributions of Robin LaBancz of Bartlett and an anonymous donor were the key to final victory in securing our purchase of the property, and we would like to give them special recognition for their generosity and foresight in seeing the need present and the future that is possible here.

We have a blank canvas with Harper’s Farm! For all that humans have taken from this property in the last 100 years, nature is working hard to take it back. Thanks to the above mentioned partners and donors and our members, we can aid in those efforts and heal this land. We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to link Harper’s Farm together with other open lands along the Illinois Riverfront, restore wetlands for wildlife habitat and refuge for waterfowl, and create trails for people to enjoy the scenic Illinois River.

Written by Jill Johnson, Communications Manager

Like this article? Share it!

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on Linkdin
Share on pinterest
Share on Pinterest

Winter Chloride Watchers Training Registration

Training Date(Required)
Which training session would you like to attend?
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.