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Ryan Pankau
Extension Educator, Horticulture
University of Illinois Extension
801 North Country Fair Drive
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Champaign, IL 61821
Phone: 217-333-7672
FAX: 217-333-7683

East Central Illinois Master Naturalists

East Central Illinois Master Naturalists

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7. Current Projects

Rain Garden Stewardship

The East Central Illinois Master Naturalists have taken over maintenance of the 1700 sq ft rain garden at the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, 302 N 1st St, Champaign, IL 61820 in 2015. This rain garden, established in 2007, is full of multi-season native forbs, grasses, shrubs and trees and handles the runoff from the building parking lot very efficiently. Maintenance of the site includes removing weeds, replacing plants, and spring clean-up.

Contact: Cathy Barnard at 

ECIMN is also coorperating with the Champaign County Master Gardeners and the University of Illinois Facilities and Services to manage the Red Oak Rain Garden, located at 1005 W Gregory St. Urbana, IL on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Volunteers assist with design and maintenance activities during the growing season including pruning, weeding, planting, and fall leaf removal.

Contact: Karen Folk at or Eliana Brown at 

Bottenfield Elementary Natural Area

Bottenfield Elementary School (1801 S Prospect Ave, Champaign, IL) parents have embarked on an ambitious project to create natural areas among the elementary school playgrounds in the summer of 2015.  The Kindergarten through 2nd Grade area will consist of seasonal “pollinator pockets” representing spring, summer, and fall. The design will demonstrate native plants across the growing season, with a visual progression that will move across the play area from West to East.  This also aligns with planned ECIMN led 4H programming in the fall, which is focused on habitat development.  The Grades 3-5 area is a nature and fitness circuit.  This natural area will be developed with less structure, a variety of native prairie plants, and builds on the rain garden already present. It will lie within the confines of the walking path.  Currently, ECIMN stewards of other school prairies are advising this project on plant selection. Volunteers will be needed to consult further and help with planting/maintenance until the parent groups are comfortable with the activities.

Contact: Sandy Lu Newport at

School Prairie Gardens

The East Central Illinois Master Naturalists established prairie gardens at two area public schools with the help of staff and students.  These plots are living classrooms for environmental education as well as the history of the Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois. The Unit 4 science curriculum includes a Tallgrass Prairie unit in the 3rd grade.  It is inspiring to see students observing a variety of insects and sketching and drawing the prairie plants.

Both gardens had a phenomenal start in 2013!  Most of the plants bloomed their first year, and because of the late spring planting, it seemed that most of the plants were blooming at the same time!  Volunteers are needed to maintain these plots which involves weeding, further development and additional planting and seed collection. Work days typically occur on Thursday mornings from 9am-11am.

The two schools currently in the program are:

  • Jefferson Middle School (1115 S Crescent Drive, Champaign, IL)
  • Booker T Washington School (606 E Grove St, Champaign, IL).   

Contact: Jim Hamilton, 

Headwaters Invasive Plant Partnership (HIPP)

The Headwaters Invasive Plant Partnership works to stop the spread of invasive plants that are already in central Illinois and block the flow of invasive plants entering the area. Invasive plant species crowd out and smother our native plants. In the Master Naturalist program, some of our volunteer work revolves around the removal of invasive plant species in natural areas. Removing these invaders allows the natural diversity of plants to be re-established as well as the natural diversity of wildlife dependent on these plants. Their document "Invasive Plants of East Central Illinois" identifies invasive species and includes alternative plants for landscaping applications."

Volunteers can assist by physically removing invasive species; raising awareness in the community and recommending alternatives; establishing partnerships with garden managers, garden centers and nursery professionals; and working with government officials to implement appropriate policies.

Contact: Diane Wilhite,

Pollinator Pockets

ECIMN and Master Gardeners are partnering to promote the use of pollinator-friendly plants in the landscape by providing ready-made designs that anyone can use to install an oasis for pollinators. These designs are intended to provide a cross-season food supply with plants that are reasonable to grow and maintain.  Volunteers can help in a variety of ways:

  • Test drive the recommended pollinator pockets
  • Submit your own successful pollinator plantings
  • Encourage others to spread the use of native/non-native pollinator friendly plantings


I-72 Demonstration Prairie

A small prairie tended by East Central Illinois Master Naturalists as an example of prairie restoration and management. It is located on the northwest corner of University Ave and Country Fair Drive in Champaign, IL, just south of the International Society of Arboriculture. Volunteers participate in invasive removal primarily.

Contact: Chandler Womack,

Bluebird Nest Box Monitors

In 2008, after volunteering to monitor the Prairieview Trail at Middle Fork Forest Preserve (Penfield) in the northeast corner of Champaign County, Jackie Roy of Paxton discovered that the 'top' of the trail might be a good location for attracting bluebirds. With a lot of help from Jim Smith of Homer, IL, 13 bluebird nest boxes were erected throughout the preserve. Another five houses are located at the North Waterfowl Area, northwest of the preserve/campground. Every summer, between March and September, Jackie records the number of bluebirds, tree swallows, and wrens that raise their broods in the nest boxes. The data is compiled and sent to the North American Bluebird Society who keeps track of the numbers of bluebirds that fledge each year.

Contact: Jackie Roy,

Bluebird Nest Box Monitors Needed in Vermilion County, IL. One trial is in Jordan Creek Wildlife Preserve; a good birding area. Also, Kennekuk and Heron Park. Jim Smith, one of the leading authorities on bluebirds in the area, will teach you how to set up and monitor bluebird boxes.

Contact Jim Smith at

Kickapoo High Pond Disability Trail and Prairie Gardens

ECIMN Kickapoo Krew and Kickapoo State Park partnered in December of 2012 to clear the High Pond Disability Trail so that people could walk through the overgrown trail. This project evolved into not only removing invasives and pruning limbs/branching but establishing prairie gardens.
 Volunteers can help in a variety of ways:

  • Weeding and caring for prairie plants in the prairie gardens
  • Collecting and broadcasting prairie plant seeds
  • Removing invasives such as honeysuckle, autumn olive trees, garlic mustard etc.
  • Pruning limbs, branches or small trees and bushes encroaching on the trail
  • Provide guided tours to the public
  • Perform workshops such as Butterflies, Pollinator Pockets, Prairie Plants to the public

Information: Contact Mary Eppich at

Ash Tree Surveys

During the last several years, a team of Master Naturalist Volunteers from the University of Illinois Extension Office, has surveyed communities in Ford, Iroquois, Vermilion and Champaign Counties for ash trees. These inventories were intended to identify and assess the condition of ash trees as well as location on public or private property. The report included information about the emerald ash borer (EAB) which has been infecting and killing trees in the Midwest. Reports were mailed to each community to inform local officials of their ash trees and the emerald ash borer. 

Contact: Carl Altstetter at