Staff Writer

The Hancock Park District has a “neat opportunity” to turn 100 acres of farmland at Oakwoods Nature Preserve into a conservation area, director Gary Pruitt said Thursday after the park board voted earlier this week to approve the change.

The park district acquired the land at Oakwoods in 2006 and 2009, Pruitt said. As the acreage was rented to farmers, the long-term plan was always to do conservation, he said, and park managers have decided that now is the right time.

When it was farmed, the land was typically used to grow corn and soybeans, Pruitt said.

There was no set price paid by farmers; they made bids “based on conditions and whatever the farmers thought they could pay,” Pruitt said.

“100 acres gives us a lot of opportunity to introduce some wildlife habitat” and possibly expand trails, Pruitt said.

The park could restore wetlands, including waterfowl, reptiles and amphibians.

Or there could be pollinator habitats for monarch butterflies.

Maybe prairie grasses would be planted.

Park staff could “let nature reclaim it,” Pruitt said.

Or, with 100 acres to use, the end result “could be a mix of all of that.”

There’s “a lot to consider,” Pruitt said, from what habitats and wildlife to support, to how much the park district can manage versus what should be contracted out. Grants could be available for certain projects.

The park district will take a “structured, systematic approach so that we get this right” because “we don’t have opportunities like this very often,” Pruitt said.

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