by Steven Jackson’12
The Nygren Wetland Preserve is only a 10-minute drive from Beloit College, but it feels like a different world entirely. Located just outside of Rockton, Ill., this piece of land—over 700 acres in all—sits at the divergence of the Rock and Pecatonica Rivers. Although “wetland” is in the name, Nygren is much more than that. The preserve includes prairie, forest, and savanna.
Nygren Wetland Preserve is owned by the Natural Land Institute (NLI), a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting natural areas and biodiversity in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The preserve is managed and cared for by a small staff and an expansive force of volunteers. People young and old, from Boy Scouts to retirees, put in work on a regular basis, with volunteer workdays scheduled every Tuesday and Wednesday.
Before its purchase by the NLI, the majority of this patch of land was pastured and tilled for farming—mostly soybeans and corn. Over time, ditching, draining, berm building, plowing, and other agricultural methods transformed the wetlands into a tract of arable farmland. Today, the NLI strives to return the preserve to its original bio-diverse, self-sustaining state.
The area’s flora and fauna becomes more vibrant with every passing season. Native plants such as prairie dock, coneflower, and wild bergamot flourish. Migratory birds of all kinds use the wetlands as a stopover site. Red fox, bald eagles, badger, river otters, sandhill cranes, and many other species populate the preserve.
Now is a great time of year to visit the Nygren Wetland Preserve. Sign up for a volunteer workday or simply stop by to enjoy the area's beauty. For more information about Nygren and other preserves under the NLI, visit the organization’s website at www.naturalland.org.