Groups helping to preserve Chillicothe Bottoms wetlands

Drew Veskauf TimesNewspapers
Attendees at the second open house of the Chillicothe Bottoms, held by the Peoria Audubon Society and Chillicothe Chamber of Commerce, view the 232-acre plot.

The Chillicothe Bottoms is receiving a helping hand from local organizations to aid in its preservation.

The Peoria Audubon Society is partnering with Ducks Unlimited to help preserve the 232 acres of wetlands in the north part of Chillicothe.

“They are a great organization. They do a lot of habitat projects throughout the region. We’re glad DU is taking an interest in this stretch,” PAS president Mike Miller said.

Ducks Unlimited bought the property in 2012 as part of its Upper Peoria Lakes Project. The project has included the purchase of three other properties in the surrounding Peoria area.

Miller said Ducks Unlimited is looking to increase its presence in this part of Illinois.

“Their role in a lot of these conservation projects is to help acquire the property. They’re not necessarily interested in holding the property for a long time. They will usually transfer it to a conservation partner,” Miller said.

“They were looking to find a conservation partner that might be outside of a state or federal agency. Partly because they feel there is more success in these areas, they tend to be more successful with local stake holders.”

Ducks Unlimited approached PAS first with the idea of acquiring the land. 

Miller said the PAS has changed its role from just bird watching to taking a part in conservation and preservation.

“We looked at several different project sites over the years and this one seemed ready to go — almost out-of-the-box from a conservation stand point,” Miller said.

Ducks Unlimited purchased the property with grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and the Grand Victoria Foundation. With the property already purchased, PAS will use its funds to invest into improvements on the property.

A low-levy system will be maintained for water control, Miller said. Another water control system will be also be renovated.

“Our biggest struggle right now is to figure out how to get people into the site,” Miller said. “That’s one of our biggest challenges.”

There is not a clear access road to the bottoms but one of the possible options will be to have a pathway from Moffitt Park onto the land.

At the moment, the owners have the only access and not the public. 

The property is home to 152 avian species as of a 2013 survey by the PAS.

There is also a federally listed threatened plan which grows on the land.

The Decurrent False Aster thrives in the conditions in the bottoms, Miller said.

“It’s kind of a poster child for river flood plains. That’s basically the only habitat it grows. It’s found in 11 counties found up and down the Illinois River,” Miller said.

With the modifying and improvement of the water control structure, Miller said it will allow for the water to retreat and expose the mud flats for emergent vegetation to grow which aids in the feeding of shore birds.

“Mud flats are kind of in shortage. These draught out conditions don’t always exist and the fact that we can do that here gives us some good potential for enhancing shorebird habitats during their migration,” Miller said.

“It’s crucial for the birds to have mud flats for migration because sometimes there’s a 6,000 mile trip and if they don’t have adequate feeding, many of them don’t make it to their winter grounds.”

The PAS held its second open house for the public to walk through the bottoms with members of the PAS and Ducks Unlimited on May 4.

Miller said about 30 people were in attendance.

Once the land is fully completed and accessible, Miller said they will look into being a part of the Illinois River Road National Scenic Byway. 

From an economic stand point, Miller said the bottoms being a part of the Byway will help local businesses.

“Birders tend to flock to areas that have a quality habitat. When we look at creating some type of sanctuary here and getting the word out about it, we’ll pull birders into the area,” Miller said.

“Birders tend to eat and stop in a local restaurant.”