Special guests loaded up on the wagon for a tour of Nygren Wetlands.

By Jean Seegers
Sandhill cranes, river otters, bald eagles, American white pelicans and dickcissels are among the hundreds of animal species that have returned to the wetlands, grasslands and woodlands at Nygren Wetland Preserve. In addition, many species of wild flowers and grasses have returned to the area.
The restored 721-acre Nygren Wetland is the showcase among 26 preserves owned by the National Land Institute (NLI).
Located on the Pecatonica and Rock Rivers west of Rockton, the Nygren Wetland welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Nature programs and events provide restoration and educational opportunities for children and adults.
The land was named for in honor of Carl and Myrna Nygren. Upon their deaths, the couple made the Natural Land Institute the primary beneficiary of their estate.
The NLI acquired what is now Nygren Wetland Preserve in June, 2000. At that time, fields had been drained and stream banks straightened in an effort to counteract natural cycles of flooding.
Once restoration began, wildlife and native vegetation were re-established relatively quickly.
“After the investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars and more than 27,000 hours of volunteer time, the Nygren Wetland Preserve has become a showcase for natural area restoration, a haven for wildlife and an outdoor classroom.” A Natural Land Institute publication stated.
The National land Institute is a private not-for-profit, 501(3) organization. NLI depends on endowments, donations and grants. Illinois government agencies struggle with providing open space such as parks, forest preserves, conservation districts and recreation areas for residents.
The Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program is a state-financed program that provides grants to local government agencies for land acquisition and improvements. Funding for OSLAD comes from a dedicated real estate transfer tax on property sold in the state.
On Tuesday, July 30, the NLI reached out to legislatures and the media in an effort to provide information about the 26 preserves in Illinois, including a hands-on look at what has been accomplished at Nygren.
Sharon Hecox, representing Rockton Township; Paul Williams and Dennis Anthony – Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District; Scott Sanders – Roscoe Village Administrator; Ricardo Montoya Picazo, – Field Representative for US Representative Cheri Bustos; Simone Cameron – Legislative Assistant to State Representative Maurice West; and Illinois State Representative Joe Sosnowski and his team of interns boarded a wagon for a guided tour of Nygren.
The informative one- hour ride provided a first-hand look at the beauty and diversity of the woodland, prairie and wetland at Nygren.
As the wagon drove through the preserve, NLI Director Kerry Leigh provided information about the wildlife and restoration of native vegetation since 2000. She spoke of the need for funding in four areas: Open Space, Soil Health, Protection of natural resources and re-instating the Endangered Species Council.
After the guided tour, a box lunch was served under a tent on the prairie. Leigh talked further about the challenges the NLI is facing and the need for further conservation and restoration.
For more information about the Natural Land Institute, contact Kerry Leith, Executive Director at 815-964-6666 or email to kleigh@naturalland.org.
Website: www.naturalland.org.

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