Putting Zoo Conservation

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources more than 200 years ago Illinois was home to approximately 8.2 million acres of wetlands. Today, as much as 90% of the state’s original wetlands are gone. Several types of wetlands exist in Illinois. Most of them are in the northeastern and southern parts of the state and along the Illinois River.

 A new wetland area is being created in the middle of the state at Miller Park. The zoo staff along with teams of volunteers are in the process of creating a pollinator garden and using the existing waterways in the mini-golf course to create a habitat for local wildlife.

In 2006, the park opened an 18-hole mini golf attraction that included water features. This past year, the zoo took over responsibility for the area and believed it had the potential to become an outdoor wetland classroom. To confirm this was possible, they invited staff from the Parklands Foundation, Master Gardeners, and ISU to access the area and the plan.

When Angelo Capparella, Associate Professor of Zoology at ISU, heard of the plan, he said it was very unlikely that it would be possible to create the wetland. However, upon seeing the area he said, “This is perfect for a wetland.”

And so began a three-year plan to create a wild wetland in the middle of the park. This is possible thanks to the leadership of Silvia Schuh, Events/Volunteer Coordinator and all the volunteers who are contributing to the project. They have removed dead leaves, cleaned the water, planted the plants, trimmed overgrown trees, spread rock, and done everything necessary to create this area. They are building on what already existed and are off to a good start creating a simulated flowing stream and pollinator garden woven in and around a mini golf course.

The goal is to have an area for kids to play and learn about wetlands. The kids and golfers will see frogs, tadpoles, bees, monarch butterflies, songbirds, and bats. Tree frogs that live in nearby pine trees come out of the trees and into the water to spawn. When this happens, the pond is soon full of tadpoles.

The Miller Park Zoological Society recently received a grant from the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation to help support this project. Those funds made it possible to purchase plants indigenous to Illinois wetlands. Here is your chance to play a round of mini golf surrounded by an amazing outdoor classroom. Come back often to see how the three-year plan unfolds.