Project Quercus events inspire hope for the future
Healthy native woodlands are needed to establish and maintain a healthy ecosystem for ourselves and all creatures great and small. McHenry County at pre-settlement, 1837, was about 40 percent oak/hickory woodland. There is little of that remaining.
The Land Conservancy founded Project Quercus to explore options to protect, preserve and regenerate oak woods in McHenry County. What does quercus mean? It is simply the Latin word for oak. There are many species of oak tree, and approximately 60 species of oak grow in the United States.
Dave Zeiger, TLC’s oak conservation outreach specialist, has overseen Project Quercus since spring 2014. This fall he will have completed 10 planting seasons as part of Project Quercus. “Working with the variety of communities and youth groups has really been a joy,” Dave says.
Dave became aware of The Land Conservancy by purchasing a rain barrel, and soon after he began volunteering for TLC on restoration workdays. He was previously a science teacher at Lundahl Middle School in Crystal Lake, IL and is now in his 10th year of “retirement”.
Why oak trees?
Dave recalls moving to the area in 1954, “My neighborhood friends and I played in oaks that had been cut down and piled up as new roads were added to our subdivision.” He has observed the continued loss of oak trees as the area has grown from rural to rural/suburban.
“It’s time to put back as many oaks as possible,” he says. Open lands are being restored, and many private landowners are working to manage their wooded properties. Dave adds, “Oak trees seem to live forever, but of course they have a life span. Some of our area oaks are 300 years old. Wow, what will it look like when these mature trees age out? We need to ask ourselves, what do we want the land to look like in the future?”
Oaks for the future
This spring 283 oak trees were planted through Project Quercus at public sites in Crystal Lake, Cary, Richmond, Port Barrington, Woodstock and Johnsburg. Approximately 900 youth and 60 adults participated. McHenry County schools that have participated multiple times are Johnsburg Junior High, Bernotas Middle School, Lundahl Middle School, Hannah Beardsley Middle School, Landmark School and Harrison School. “Watch ‘em grow!” says Dave.
In 20 years many of trees planted will be mature and begin to produce acorns. “Our youthful planters will also be mature. Imagine them, possibly with their own families, enjoying the beautiful woodland landscapes,” says Dave.
Summer and fall plans
During the summer the Project Quercus team will be watering recently planted trees as needed, and in the fall fourth graders at Valley View School in McHenry will begin planting oaks on the school grounds.
On a personal note
Dave says that his Project Quercus experience has been joyful and personally rewarding as he works with many communities and organizations to invest in the future. After a short lesson on site or in the classroom and a planting demonstration, he says young citizens react enthusiastically to the task of planting trees. “I love watching the lively action and hearing the chatter of voices in the air as everyone is working in teams to plant a single oak tree with care. Quercus events inspire hope for the future.”
Above: Dave and a team of young planters at Shamrock Farm Park in McHenry, IL
Credit: All photos Landmark Cares, organizers Gabriella Vagnoli and Amanda Arjona
Below left: Lisa, Olivia and Abigail Shoemaker pose by a freshly planted oak.
Below right: Many hands make light work when planting oak trees.