Research on bat population and habitat at the Grand Prairie Friends’ Warbler Ridge Conservation Area south of Charleston was part of what led to the group’s receiving the Conservationist of the Year award from the Coles County Soil and Water Conservation District.

JG-TC FILE PHOTO

CHARLESTON — For about the last six years, the Grand Prairie Friends organization has worked toward preserving the natural areas of a vast tract of land south of Charleston.

But with all the land acquisition, preservation work, trail projects and more, Sarah Livesay, the organization’s director, says she’s "most proud" of a smaller example of the effort.

Among the more recent work at what’s now Warbler Ridge Conservation Area is the installation of poles with artificial tree bark for roosting bats.

"It’s something you just don’t see in nature preserves and conservation areas in the United States," she said.

Livesay said she feels that’s one way the group’s efforts exemplified "innovative" practices. It’s part of the "total resource management" approach that help led to a recent recognition.

The Grand Prairie Friends and its efforts at Warbler Ridge led to its selection by the Coles County Soil and Water Conservation District as that organization’s Conservationist of the Year.

The district recognizes a conservation effort each year, alternating between farmers who use conservation practices in their operations and people or groups that work to preserve natural areas.

"The organization’s property holdings include good representations of several ecologically sensitive habitats," said Lauren Spaniol, district conservationist with the Soil and Water Conservation District. "Additionally, they are creating and revitalizing habitat through restoration efforts."

The Urbana-based Grand Prairie Friends first purchased a woodlands near Fox Ridge State Park in 2012. It’s continued to acquire and add property since then to develop a 1,000-acre preserve stretching from near Fox Ridge to Lake Charleston.

Last year, the Grand Prairie Friends began working with the Illinois Natural History Survey to study the bat population and improve bat habitat at the site.

The group’s work at Warbler Ridge has also included reforestation, constructing wetlands, controlling non-native plant species and more, noted Jeff Peyton, Grand Prairie Friends’ natural areas manager.

He said it’s part of a "holistic approach" to try to manage all aspects of an ecosystem.

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