Seed Hunting Fun in Hennepin Refuge

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
Just off Route 26 in Hennepin is a dirt road entrance to the Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes.

If you drive too fast, you might miss the brown highway sign that points you in the right direction.
The trees on the roadway block the vast wetlands that contain hundreds of wildlife species. In 2012 this refuge was listed as a Wetland of International Importance in accordance with the International Ramsar Convention Wetlands. It is one of only 35 other sites in the United States to have been recognized as meeting the qualifications of Ramsar in the past 25 years.

Saturday, volunteers came to the refuge to take part in collecting seeds during the annual seed harvest. Even with bitterly cold temperatures and rain, volunteers showed up ready to work with buckets in hand.

“Just 14 years ago this was all vast farmland,” said Louise Harrison, originally of South Africa, but now residing in Kewanee. “What they’ve done here is mind-blowing. It’s incredibly difficult to restore wetlands, so I have the utmost respect for the people who have helped do this. I just wish I was here sooner to take part in it.”

Rick Seibert, the site supervisor for Hennepin & Hopper Lakes who works for the Wetlands Initiative, said he and volunteers were collecting seeds to be planted in different areas of the wetland to have a more diverse ecosystem. Seibert said about 20 volunteers came out Saturday and split into groups to collect seeds.

His group split off from the others and went down Sleep Forest Trail, a one-mile walking trail in the refuge to look for Royal Catchfly seeds.

In Seibert’s group, a master gardener, Antoinette Strezo of Earlville, and a master naturalist, Laurel Maze of Peru, said that in order to hold their certification, they have to complete several hours of training and volunteering.

“This is a wonderful way to get the volunteer hours,” Maze said.

Not everyone in the group was a master of something. Bob Meyers of Hennepin was part of Seibert’s group as well, and he was just a loyal volunteer to the refuge.

“Bob has been volunteering with us since 2001,” Seibert said, adding Meyers used to take water samples from the refuge three times a week to check nitrogen levels.

“It was just an excuse to get in the woods,” Meyers said. “I was more privileged to do it than making a donation to it.”

A former science teacher was also part of the group of volunteers. Mary Ann Smith of Princeton said the last year she taught, she taught a botany class and she took her students to see the refuge.

“I think it’s important to say that not all of us here are here for training purposes. Just local people who care about it,” Smith said.

Source: News Tribune