Letting the oaks shine: A Q&A with land owner Cheri Magrini
TLC recently launched the 5,000 Acre Challenge to increase the amount of oak woods protected in McHenry County. This is the story of one family’s work to protect their oaks.
How much property do you own and how much of it is oaks?
6.5 acres in Woodstock, IL
How long have you lived there?
We have lived there since 2015. When my husband Pete retired in 2018, we were looking for a place that was not too far of a drive from Chicago. We wanted a property with walking woods and a place for me to garden. Pete was looking for a building where he could do woodworking. The property was actually not for sale when we looked at it. The owners had it on the market with our agent in 2008, and took it off the market when the housing crash took place.
Why do you choose to preserve your oaks?
I spent my childhood in northern Minnesota on a turkey farm and surrounded by lakes. There were forests everywhere. My siblings and I spent hours in the woods and at the lakes. We saw how wildlife thrived when the trees remained undisturbed. When we bought this property we educated ourselves about invasive trees like buckthorn and honeysuckle and invasive plants like garlic mustard.
Tucked in amongst the invasives are giant oak trees with glorious canopies throughout the property. We are doing whatever we can to return our woods to a balanced ecosystem, especially for the birds, woodland native plants, insects and fungi that rely upon the oak trees.
Along with oak trees we have mature and young shagbark hickories, cherry trees and elms. Having all of these maturing and co-existing is important to the biodiversity in the woods that we are trying to restore.
From left to right: Anemone, Wild Ginger and Ferns, Leaf Litter in the Magrinis' woods, and Trout Lilies in the lawn.
How did you find out about TLC?
I was a mentee in the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee (WPPC) program, and I learned about TLC at one of the education programs during my mentee year.
Are other people involved in maintaining your oak woods? If so, how?
My husband Pete gets out to cut down buckthorn with his chainsaw. We are in the process of making a natural fence along one of the trails.
We had a company come out to clear out the buckthorn and honeysuckle in a half-acre area off of a main trail. The owner was indispensable in walking the entire property teaching me about the kinds of oaks and other trees we have and areas that could be cleared to open up the canopies.
TLC’s Oak Keepers classes have also been a big help--especially going to some of TLC’s preservation areas and learning about the different ecosystems in the woods.
Geranium (left) and Mayapples on the Magrinis' property.
What has been the most challenging and rewarding aspect of maintaining your oaks?
It can be overwhelming with the amount of property here that needs to be restored. We do a little at a time and celebrate the small successes when an oak has a place to shine.
What advice would you give to neighbors/others to encourage them to preserve their oaks?
Learn all you can. Take advantage of the programs at TLC. Talk with other owners. Research companies if you are thinking about getting work done for you, and work with one that will spend as much time as you need in learning about the oaks. We have been fortunate to have two oak and other tree preservation individuals from two restoration companies that have spent hours with me walking in the woods and teaching me about all the different kinds of oaks we have here.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I enjoy looking at the leaves and trunks of the different kinds of oak trees we have—red, white, pin and bur—to learn how to identify them. I’m always learning something new.
In each season I walk the trails and find a special place to lie down and look at the oak tree canopies. The trees sing as they sway in the wind. The dappled sunshine feels like being embraced by warmth all around. I just love laying down in the crunch of a bed of fall oak tree leaves and seeing new patterns in the upper trunks and branches with the leaves off. I walk in the woods picking up leaves and create a display in my home to bring nature indoors. And in winter it is like a fairytale to see how the snow lands on one side of the tree. This is when I do the most birdwatching.
Finding what feeds the soul and creates a joy in the oaks is a way to feel connected. Some people will say they feel "small" next to the giant oaks. I feel like I am even more connected to nature and the woods being surrounded by the large oaks here.
For more information on the 5,000 Acre Challenge and how you can get involved, go to 5000Acres.com.