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Visitors discover Fermilab's green spaces

Published: Saturday, July 14, 2012 4:09 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, July 16, 2012 6:27 a.m. CST

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BATAVIA – Only visitors with proper clearance get to tour the restored prairie and savannah within the Tevatron ring at Fermilab, but on Saturday the isolated circle was open to all during Discovery Day, an event hosted by Fermilab Natural Areas.

FNA is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the restoration, study and enjoyment of the natural areas at Fermilab.

Volunteers said Fermilab employees created the organization in recent years because Fermilab doesn't have the resources necessary to care for all the natural areas within its 10 square miles.

"I know what the limitations are money-wise," said Mike Becker, who works in Fermilab's grounds department.

Employee Dave Shemanske, who has worked closely with the wetland restoration, said FNA is completing work above and beyond what Fermilab can do.

"The work is overwhelming," he said.

With Discovery Day, the men said, FNA hoped to raise more awareness about the relatively new group.

Beginning at 10 a.m., visitors boarded school buses at the Kuhn Barn in the Fermilab Village, where buildings from the former town of Weston are still used.

Visitors had the option of touring any and all four sites, including Indian Creek Woods, Big Woods North and Nepese Marsh.

The marsh – once home of a sewage treatment lagoon for Weston – was much dryer than usual due to the lack of rain, guide Dave Spleha said, noting the area wasn't wet enough for shore birds.

Water was, however, in the adjacent DUSAF Pond, and many visitors paused to look at a great blue heron and other wildlife.

Meanwhile, Becker led visitors through the oak savannah, pointing out invasive species and the difference in plant diversity between one section and another.

Farming and fire suppression have changed the native landscape, he said, but FNA is trying to restore the area to what it had once been by creating conditions where native wild flowers, grasses and diversity can thrive.

Pausing near a patch of an especially densely wooded area, Becker said FNA's hope is that the area will look totally different in 10 years.

Sitting down to a hot dog lunch after viewing two sites, Wheaton resident Gail Chastain said the tours educated her about an area she frequently visits for bird watching and other recreation. Her husband works at Fermilab as a lab technician, she said, but he knows little about the natural areas.

"I figured I come here enough I should learn what's going on," Chastain said.

FNA members estimated that 150 to 200 people attended Discovery Day, and they welcomed attendees to volunteer. Volunteer opportunities include native seed collector, rare plant monitor, wildlife survey assistant, grant writing assistant, rain barrel assembly and trails monitor.

For more information about FNA, call 630-840-4845, email fermilabnaturalareas@gmail.com or visit www.fermilabnaturalareas.org.

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