Preserving Mettawa’s Open Lands: Now and for the Future

A special topic at the December Board meeting covered various ideas and thoughts on the future of land management issues. Despite the late December date, about 40 residents and interested parties braved the cold to attend this first meeting (of what will likely be more) on this important topic. As expressed by many attendees, Mettawa residents love the natural habitat that largely makes up the Village. In his opening remarks to introduce the topic, Mayor Jess Ray welcomed the input of several experts, he had invited to attend, residents and neighbors in the area of land management and preservation to initiate a dialog with the Board regarding those issues.

Benjamin FranklinThe Mayor shared a quote as an analogy to our lands by reminding the meeting attendees what Benjamin Franklin said, "that we never appreciate the value of water until the well runs dry," Mayor Ray commented, "We, like the Potawatomi who lived here before us, are now the stewards of the land and during the last few years, the Board has actively acquired properties to further preserve this land that we love. We now own nearly 70 acres within the Village."

Mayor Ray is aware of what people don't want to do regarding development in Mettawa and he wanted third party experts to present ideas about what the Village should consider as far as implementing a plan for the future and giving residents the opportunity to provide feedback. To that end, he invited experts -- each with an expertise from which they could advise and comment on our community, including Scott Byron Landscaping, Conserve Lake County and Lake County Forest Preserve, Living Habitats, Rocco Fiore Landscaping among others -- to present their ideas. In addition, he underscored that while it is the Board's ultimate responsibility to design and maintain these common lands and to make the final decisions in the best interest of the residents, he felt that eventually it might be wise to consider giving Mettawa's 550 residents some say in the matter.

Open Land PictureAndy Otting from Scott Bryon provided an educational presentation about the different options that Mettawa could consider as they research landscape management and preservation of the Village's natural habitats. "While it is clear that residents do not want a 'manicured' landscaping look, all of the residents that evening seemed excited to learn more about other landscaping options. In addition, they came to realize that maintaining a natural habitat takes regular work and with Mettawa's ongoing commitment to land preservation, they will need a plan that carries them into the future so they can continue to enjoy all the natural wonder that Mettawa has to offer."

Following Mr. Otting's presentation, Larry Falbe, former Mettawa Trustee, President of Mettawa Open Lands (MOLA) and board member of Conserve Lake County, spoke. "MOLA exists to promote preservation of open space. Some people think open space means horse pastures; others think of forest preserves. It is important to recognize that this concept of open lands has different meanings to different people, one person sees Buckthorn as a green tree; another as a weed choking off oak trees." He went on to say that he thought most everyone left the meeting with a common feeling that the land needs to be preserved through purchasing land parcels by the Village; placing conservation easements on them and maintaining open space."

According to Heidi Natura, Founder & Partner, Living Habitats, Mettawa needs protocols to preserve and enhance the health of remaining local natural habitats. This includes removing non-native plants to help save the many mature oaks that help to define the community, and which are threatened by invasive plants. Over her career, Heidi has actively promoted the wise use and care of natural resources through her company's planning and design work that is focused on native ecosystems. "I think it is very important to develop a long-term plan outlining a clear framework for land management and landscaping within Mettawa to best support its beautiful natural setting. The idea of protecting and enhancing the current natural setting is broadly supported in general and there was a very positive consensus about this approach at the meeting. A formal plan developed by the Village would provide a written and graphic definition to insure desired outcomes meet residents' expectations. With such a plan to protect and enhance natural resources, the Village could then articulate where it wants to be in the future; without one, it is less certain how Mettawa's natural resources will fare even in the near term."

FlowersAs a professional in the field and resident of the community, Orren Pickell added, "You can install a rural trail and have a sign here or there with transitions into rural space that already exists, such as the perennials at the corner of Bradley Road and Riverwoods Boulevard. This can all be done in a low-key manner. If done well, people won't even notice the change, but a plan is necessary, especially for the transition areas such as from Forest Preserve land to non-forest preserve land.

"The Village faces many challenges when it comes to the broader perspective of long-term land management. As we purchase land to block commercialization and pro-actively manage density issues, we must also make plans to do something with and manage that land."

Mayor Ray stated that proper land management can be complicated because in one case Buckthorn trees were removed to protect the native plants, but resulted in a view of the Tollway. And in another instance where berms were added to Village open lands he received complaints from some residents who didn't like the idea of berms. "It will be a challenge to please everyone, but I am glad that the group recognized the need for a land management plan for the Village—with the goal to improve our vistas and preserve our land for present and future residents."

ZPA Commission member, Liz Leonard, agreed in saying, "We need one plan that places some responsibility on the homeowner for private land maintenance. In addition, a long term community plan is necessary for Village owned lands to preserve the rural, native feel of Mettawa."

Steve Barg, Executive Director of Conserve Lake County, summarized the upbeat meeting well:"It seems clear that the majority of people at the meeting like the idea of having a plan for Village owned lands and want some consistency about how the land is managed and cared for. The Village cannot just let nature take its course. It needs to create a plan to keep invasive species out. Land management by the Village is necessary in order to maintain the natural beauty of the Village."

Trustee Jeff Clark noted, "The meeting was meaningful because it became clear that the natural wonder that we call home is in jeopardy. It was also reiterated that Buckthorn trees and other invasive plants are choking off the native flora. And, most importantly, the majestic oak population is in danger too. According to the Forest Preserve arborist, our oak trees will be gone in 30 years if we don't act now. (The comment about the Oaks was made by an attending representative from the Forest Preserve also stating: that 25% of Lake County's tree canopy is made up of Ash trees which are likely to be eliminated due to the Emerald Ash Beetle infestation currently seen around all of Lake

Emerald Ash BeetleEAB Facts:
~It attacks only ash trees (Fraxiinus spp.).
~Adult Beetles are metallic green and about 1/2 inch long.
~Adults leave a D-shaped exit hole in the bark when they emerge in spring.
~Woodpeckers like EAB larvae; heavy woodpecker damage on ash trees may be a sign of infestation.
~Firewood cannot be moved outside of many states including Illinois because of a federal EAB quarantine.
~It probably came from Asia in wood packing material.

Comprehensive Conservation PlanI hope that a focus group will be formed to engage the appropriate individuals and organizations to evaluate our situation and identify some progressive avenues to follow--avenues that will protect and enhance the natural rural setting we enjoy."

Mayor Ray concluded, "In order for us to reach our goals, the Board is going to have to invest in landscape management so our land doesn't go fallow. I am glad that we had such a successful forum and exchange of ideas. Each time we acquire new land, the Board will seek recommendations as to how the property best be incorporated into an overall plan. This formal process will allow us to continue preserving Mettawa's Open Lands for now and the future. To that end, we need to take additional small steps to arrive at a resident and Board supported plan for Mettawa land management. It seems clear from the dialog at the December meeting that successful planning now is our best way to protect the beauty that makes Mettawa the place in which we all choose to live."

Stay tuned for other conversations on this topic. If you have ideas, comments or thoughts, please forward them to the Mayor.