Blog

Friends of the Fox River highlights and news

Voting With Your Wallet

By Pat Brady, DivvyBack Tired of talking about voting?  You betcha.  However, I’m talking about the powerful vote each of us has to make environmental change in the world.  If you don’t like the Earth warming up or our waters polluted, you can “vote” for change through your purchasing behavior. ...
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Meet Your Witchy Neighbor

By Jack MacRae Witch Hazel might sound like a cousin of Samantha Stevens.  But botanically, it is really an attractive understory shrub found in naturally wooded areas.  Their attractive, rounded-oval form makes them popular around the globe. Illinois is home to the Virginia variety, Hamamelis virginiana.  It can grow to 10-15 feet in our...
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Meet Your Returning Neighbors

By Jack MacRae Ornithologists have learned a great deal about dark-eyed juncos, those cute, gray and white snowbirds that visit us from the north.  We know their size, color, diet, and – most interesting – we know what they do.  Their migration patterns, flocking activity, and feeding habits make them neighbors you...
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Meet your Tall Neighbor

By Black Jack MacRae When I think of black walnuts, I think of their abscission layer.  Abscission is a botanical term used to describe the highly complex separation of leaves, flowers, and fruits from their respective plants at the end of the growing season. In a nutshell, our deciduous trees produce...
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Who Represents You?

By Gary Swick, President We are very fortunate that in this watershed we are governed by a democratic system. The decisions that are made that influence the health of the Fox River and its tributaries come from research, discussion, and policy enacted by elected representatives. From the board members of...
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How are you handling the drought?

If you look at the lawn, you probably see evidence of drought conditions; brown and brittle leaves. The grass is probably not native to this region, so it goes into a dormant state when conditions are too arid. Intervening with watering can actually make things worse for the plants. Native...
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Currently Affecting Our Fox

By Gary Swick, FOFR President Advocacy and giving the Fox River a voice were the founding principles of Friends of the Fox River. Sometimes this concerns local issues, like the current public comment period for Lake County’s stormwater ordinance. Others are national in scope like the current White House rollback...
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Why You Should Be In This Canoe

By Gary Swick The debate over whether to choose a plastic or paper bag is pretty even when comparing their environmental footprints. However, in considering a few particular situations like holding wet items for example, or the bag’s likelihood to become long term litter, the choice is a different story....
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River Rally 2020

By Gary Swick, President Reflections River Network‘s annual River Rally is a national conference that brings together river advocates from agencies, municipalities, non-profits, industry innovators, philanthropists, academics and community leaders to learn and exchange contemporary information. I usually attend River Rally every other year. I always return excited and carrying new...
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Meet Your Fabled Lotus Neighbors!

By Jack MacRae I once read that the American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea, “will make the soul forget the woes of the Earth”.  Sounds wonderful to me. With its soft-scented, butter colored flowers and colossal green leaves, the lotus has inspired artists, poets, and spiritualists for centuries. The Google Machine tells us there...
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Meet Your Scavenging Neighbors

By Jack MacRae Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) are frequent flyers in our wild skies. Teetering on their long wings, these aerial scavengers love to glide up and down the Fox River Valley. Turkey vultures are large, dark feathered birds with bald red heads. They hold their wings at a slight...
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Mother’s Day Like No Other

By Gary Swick, President Mother’s Day is approaching but it will surely be another change from the norm. We’re learning that forced change can lead to innovation and wonderful surprises. The optimists and silver-lining folks are looking for the new normal to be a healthier and more just version of...
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Responding to New Challenges

We are learning that doing things differently (not necessarily by choice) can yield better results. Friends of the Fox River (FOFR) is meeting new challenges by offering our services of education, restoration, and advocacy in new ways. Everybody is experiencing some loss during this unique period: loss of life, connection...
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Meet your New Neighbor

By Jack MacRae The western harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys megalotis) is the smallest (weighing an average 1/4 oz – 1/2 oz) of our long-tailed (almost 100 mm long!) neighborhood mice.  They are mousy brown with grayish white on their bellies and a nearly hairless tail.  They live where the grass and weeds are...
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A Child’s First Teacher

By Jenni Schiavone Dear Caregivers, The Friends of the Fox River (FOFR) Education Design Team and I feel it is important to reach out to all caregivers to acknowledge and celebrate the work that you do without knowing you are doing it.  Let this digital message be the conduit between...
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Water Remembers

By Gary Mechanic, Executive Director Last spring at our amazing “Love Our River Day“ clean-up and community celebration in Elgin, Kathy Haerr offered a water blessing during which she said: “Water has a memory”. I mentally scoffed at the idea. I took her to mean that water has a memory...
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State of the Fox River 2020

Fifty Years of Environmental Protection In this year’s live presentation of the State of the Fox River, I shared my challenge in answering the complex question that I often receive: “How is the Fox River doing?” Since the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1970 things have been improving....
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Meet Your Neighbors: Meet the Sumacs

By Jack MacRae The burgundy leaves of sumac fill the Fox Valley’s fall woods.  The hue comes from the pigment anthocyanin and is greatly influenced by the weather.  Here is how: Cool nights (below 45f) inhibit the tree’s chlorophyll production.  Without chlorophyll, sugars accumulate in the leaves.  Increased sugar leads to a rise in...
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It WAS Our Fox River Day!

By Gary Mechanic, Executive Director The 1st It’s Our Fox River Day was a successful start for an annual event despite some awful weather for a cleanup. More than 150 volunteers braved the winds, cloudy skies, and rain to pick up trash. For the first time in history, local organizers...
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Nature’s Gifts

By Gary Swick, FOFR President Nature offers us much that we take for granted. Our need for drinkable water, clean air, and bounty of food choices are often underappreciated because they are so readily available. In addition, nature provides many beautiful gifts of art for our appreciation. Many of us...
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Meet Your Water Snake Neighbors

By Slithering Jack MacRae Queen snakes are gentle but squirmy water snakes with unique colors. They are not female king snakes, but belong to an entirely different taxonomic genus and family. Their very cool name in Latin “Regina septemvitatta” means Queen Seven Stripe. Queen snakes are about 2 feet long...
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Plastics are Breaking the Laws

By Gary Swick, President At our Yorkville river cleanup, I realized that my very full bag of trash was exceptionally light. It lacked the usual heavy glass bottles and pieces of metal. The contents were primarily cigarette butts, plastic bottles, food wrappers, and miscellaneous other plastic products like polystyrene (Styrofoam)....
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Meet Your Neighbors: Turtle Power!

By Jack MacRae The eggs have all been laid.   Many thousands of the white spheres are now buried in our parks and gardens.  They look like ping pong balls.  The eggs were deposited in subterranean nests by our largest local reptile, the common snapping turtle. Common snapping turtles are truly common.  They live in...
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Dam Removal as an Act of Patriotism

By Gary Swick, President July is a time for celebration because July 4th is Independence Day for the United States of America. This holiday is not religion-oriented, nor a family-centered time for gathering. It doesn’t involve greeting cards or dressing up. But it does involve decorations with flags and some...
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It Takes A Community

By Gary Swick, President Remember Hilary Clinton’s 1996 book, “It Takes a Village,” and her 2016 Democratic National Convention speech reminding us that alone we can neither rear a healthy family, build a business, heal a community, or lift a country by ourselves? Collaboratively, we do better when we pool...
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Meet Your Neighbors: Cartoon Teachers

By Jack MacRae Today’s “Meet Your Neighbors” will look at 2 obscure and uncommon plant species and how their ancient names have been memorialized in popular culture, namely Calvin and Hobbs and The Simpsons. A Bitter Teacher Calvin (no last name was ever given)’s educator adversary was Miss Wormwood.  In botanical...
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Saving Long Lake – Part Two

By Gary Mechanic, Executive Director Late last year one of the final pages of a decades long battle to save Long Lake (in Lake County Illinois) came to a close when Illinois’ Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a settlement with Baxter Healthcare that will end that company’s decades-long pollution of...
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My Friend Flicker

By Jack MacRae Flicker meat tastes like ants.  I doubt I will get the opportunity to verify this (I would do it in a heartbeat) but times, tastes, and sensibilities have changed. The topic of tasting flicker meat was first raised by universally famous naturalist and artist John James Audubon, who...
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Harmony

By Gary Swick, President Lying in a hammock feels like harmony to me. It’s the cradled feeling of being safely supported while swinging in suspension. It’s peaceful and joyous. May brings about an incredible demonstration of nature’s harmony, with many factors playing into a unified production. Can you imagine trying...
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Those Dam Flies

By Art Malm, P.E., FOFR Director It’s that first warm, wonderful day of spring. The breeze is light; you feel the sun’s radiant energy through your light jacket. A perfect day to be paddling, or biking, or hiking, or just hanging out along the river.  But ugh! Nasty swarms of...
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Saving Long Lake – Part One

By Gary Mechanic, Executive Director Late last year one of the final pages of a decades long battle to save Long Lake (in Lake County Illinois) came to a close when Illinois’ Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a settlement with Baxter Healthcare that will end that company’s decades-long pollution of...
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“So Far So Good…Part 1”

By Art Malm, P.E., FOFR Director The Illinois State Water Survey and the Prairie Research Institute of the University of Illinois have completed a major new water quality study for the Fox River.  “Water Quality Trends Analysis for the Fox River Watershed: Stratton Dam to the Illinois River” (“WQTA”) shows...
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Meet Your Neighbors: Chipping Sparrows

By Jack MacRae Every April, a paranoid little bird appears in my yard.  He perceives his adversaries everywhere he turns.  He then feels compelled to physically confront these interlopers with every fiber of his 0.43 ounce body. Unfortunately, he is seeing his own reflection.  He cannot comprehend that he is the bird in the...
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State of the Fox River Report

By Gary Swick This year’s State of the Fox River Report is a celebration of things gone well and progress that deserves recognition. But this is an interactive report and celebration! So whenever you see a 👏, please celebrate by standing and yelling, politely clapping, smiling & nodding, or shouting...
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Tyler Creek Watershed Coalition

By Carl Missele, Treasurer TCWC The Tyler Creek Watershed Coalition (TCWC) was formed to initiate and manage the green infrastructure recommendations that came from the Tyler Creek Watershed Plan (TCWP). The TCWP was prepared utilizing funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. The...
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From the Heart

By Gary Swick My articles have been staying connected with monthly themes. So, following the months of charitable giving, holiday gifting, and New Year’s resolving, I am offering a Valentine’s Day message. Valentine’s Day has some interesting history, but it has become a Hallmark holiday with heart balloons, flowers, and...
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Meet Your Neighbors: Voley Moley!

By Furry Jack MacRae Voles live fast and die young.  There are millions of these mousy rodents in our grassy neighborhoods throughout the Fox River’s watershed, but they almost never make it to their second birthday. Meadow voles have their own cycle of life.  Bio-chronologists have learned voles do not subscribe to a typical...
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Resolve to Be a Better Friend

By Gary Swick, President In December’s newsletter, I offered the Fox River’s holiday gift list. I also promised that I would suggest a few resolution ideas to help you to give the Fox River what  it wants. The resolutions should be specific, achievable, relevant, measurable, and personal. We are all...
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How Does the River Flow?

From time to time Friends of the Fox River receives questions thru our website or Facebook page about the river, pollution and other watershed related issues. Here’s a question we received that FOFR  Director Art Malm researched and answers. J. Faust asks: Do you have an estimate of the volume...
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Mill Creek Watershed

By Holly Hudson, Senior Aquatic Biologist, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning The 31 square mile Mill Creek watershed includes portions of four municipalities (Batavia, Campton Hills, Geneva, and St. Charles) and five townships (Batavia, Blackberry, Campton, Geneva, and St. Charles. The primary land uses in the watershed are agriculture (30%),...
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Giving

By Gary Swick My assigned topic for this month’s President’s article is Giving. This seems appropriate as we are entering the giving period, culturally marked by Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the religious holiday mother lodes in December.  Now we participate in the latest non-profit annual holiday Giving Tuesday....
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Meet Your Neighbors: Nighthawks

By Jack MacRae The nighthawks are dining.  They appear at dusk in our October skies, swooping, darting and snatching bugs in their big mouths.  As neotropical migrants, nighthawks are on their way to Argentina where they’ll hang with the gauchos for the winter. Common nighthawks are slim, medium sized birds with big black eyes,...
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What Will It Look Like?

By Art Malm, FOFR Board Member Maybe the first question asked by almost anyone considering dam removal is “what will it look like?”. There aren’t many people left in the Fox Valley who remember what the Fox looked like before the dams were built. Doubtful their grandparents did either. The...
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Who Drinks the Fox River?

By Kyla Jacobsen, FOFR Board Member Years ago, people settled and communities grew up along rivers. People and animals had access to water and it was an easy way to transport goods by rafts or floats down the river. There were no dams back in those days and it allowed...
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Meet Your Neighbors: Spring Cuties

By Jack MacRae Ephemeral Flora Spring beauties (claytonia) are true cuties. They’re wee little flowers found in our mature oak and maple woods. Look close and you’ll see five peppermint pink striped petals that form a saucer shape corolla, two soft green sepals that form the calyx, and five stamens with...
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Love Our River Days

by Gary Mechanic, Executive Director The Fox River has come a long way from the days when it was the most used and abused river in Illinois. An 1908 monograph describes the Fox River: “… the tributaries often bring large amounts of sediment, and various manufactories along the river discharge...
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Diversity and Stability

by Gary Swick One of the basic concepts of ecology is that diversity leads to stability. The Fox River watershed has two kinds of diversity! It can boast of biological diversity, and a diversity of groups that work to preserve and increase the biological diversity. Diverse Origins Illinois may seem...
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