Frequently Asked Questions And General Information About The Crow’s Foot Conservation Area Concept
This is a collection of questions asked by committee members and the general public, and as many answers as we have been able to come up with. Some questions haven’t been answered yet, but they are being researched. New questions will be added as they are asked, or as we think of them.
1. General Information
1.a. How was Crow’s Foot Started?
The concept for the Crow’s Foot Conservation Area started with several landowners approaching the Boone County Conservation District (BCCD) and the McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD) to express their individual interests in selling property to be used for conservation purposes. These landowners did not come in as a group, but approached the districts independently of one another over a period of several years.
In Boone County, the initial properties offered for consideration were nearly contiguous and represented an area of approximately 698 acres. Most of this land was located in the Coon Creek Watershed. Some of the landowners owned property in both Boone and McHenry Counties. A unique opportunity had occurred. A group of independent landowners had, on their own initiative, expressed an interest to sell their land with a desire to see that land managed for conservation related uses. In addition, the lands offered were distributed within the boundaries of two conservation districts allowing the potential establishment of a partnership.
The BCCD and MCCD jointly explored ways to fund this opportunity. The districts asked the Illinois Department of Natural Resources if there was interest from that agency to become directly involved in a partnership. The districts were advised by IDNR officials to utilize the Open Land Trust grant program and, if additional involvement was desired, to complete a feasibility study of the area.
The districts partnered with the Trust For Public Land to prepare a grant application to the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) to request funds to conduct a feasibility study. The ICECF, private foundation, awarded The Trust For Public Land a grant of nearly $65,000 toward the study. The study was prepared in the format of a power point presentation (a computerized version of a slide presentation). A consulting firm, SmithGroup JJR, completed the study and prepared the power point presentation. In August of 2002 the consultant gave the first presentation of the feasibility study to the Boone and McHenry County Conservation Districts at each districts’ respective board meeting. An informational article authored by Eric J. Clark of the Northwest Herald was printed on September 1 of 2002.
1.b. Who named it?
Greg Calpino, Consultant with SmithGroup JJR made the observation that the natural drainage pattern resembled a “crow’s foot.”
1.c. Who paid for the feasibility study?
A private, not-for-profit foundation, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.
1.d. Who has vested interest in this project?
The community at large certainly has a vested interest. The public has expressed a strong desire to protect open space, agricultural lands, and quality surface and groundwater systems. Boone County’s comprehensive plan documents these desires, which were offered repeatedly at the many public hearings held to obtain the community’s voice. Landowners, residents, businesses and others in the area have expressed both concern and optimism with respect to the initial concept offered for consideration. The Boone and McHenry County Conservation Districts, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and The Trust For Public Land represent agencies or organizations that initiated the concept proposing to work toward creating a large conservation area.
1.e. How will this be funded?
The Boone County Conservation District will rely extensively on grant funds. The BCCD was awarded an Open Land Trust grant of $285,000 on March 22nd 2002 to purchase approximately 80 acres situated along the Kishwaukee River. This grant requires a 50% match from the BCCD. The BCCD is using the value of a donated parcel of land (not in the immediate area) to provide the 50% match. A second Open Land Trust grant requiring no match was awarded to the BCCD in January 2003 in the amount of $2 million dollars.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources purchased 109 acres of property in December 2002. This property is located in Boone County along the Boone/McHenry County line.
1.f. What is the timeline for final completion?
There is no specific date or time period identified as a completion deadline. The initial vision projected a 20 to 50 year period of time to work within. Depending on circumstances, the process may be longer or shorter than this.
1.g. Why is Crow’s Foot important?
The feasibility study looked at a total area of about 16,500 acres of land, and provides a starting point for more detailed study in the future. The study looked at population growth, speed of development, location, and distance to existing local and state parks and shows the future need for public recreational facilities. Many factors were considered by the study. Local comprehensive plans were consulted to determine planned future use, and to see how Crow’s Foot would fit in. Natural resource information was reviewed to evaluate the ecosystem types and habitat available or possible. Soils information provides information about the natural, pre-settlement conditions of the land and water features of the area. Flooding has been and continues to be a serious issue affecting much of the study area. Implementing conservation measures on lands located within this study area may relieve or reduce risks associated with water related problems. The key to success is objective evaluation of cost versus benefit for a variety of desired land uses and alternative conservation measures including consideration of off-site effects.
The study area includes portions of both the Kishwaukee River watershed and the Coon Creek watershed. This area contains the confluence of at least eight tributary streams. The Kishwaukee River watershed has been identified as a “Unique Aquatic Resource” or class “A” stream. Only three river systems share that distinction in the State of Illinois. This area includes habitat for at least four state threatened species of birds and six endangered species of birds with a total of 126 species of birds observed or identified by sound in the Coon Creek watershed area.
1.h. How will the BCCD manage newly acquired land in this area?
Initially the land will remain in agricultural production through lease arrangements. Land will remain on the tax rolls and may have limited public access depending on each lease arrangement. Funds generated by lease agreements will be used to help with habitat restoration work as well as establishing opportunities for public use. Management is expected by be a joint effort between the Boone and McHenry County Conservation Districts and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Efforts are underway to minimize duplication of services and establish a cohesive management strategy for all of the lands associated with the Crow’s Foot area.
1.i. Will the Crow’s Foot Conservation Area increase taxes?
Illinois state law governs the tax rate that conservation districts can levy. The Boone County Conservation District currently levies at a rate of $0.0814 per one hundred dollars of assessed evaluation. The maximum rate that the BCCD can levy per state law is $0.10 per one hundred dollars of assessed evaluation. Tax cap restrictions are also in place, requiring a public hearing for any rate increase that exceeds five percent of the previous year’s extension. Any other increase would require a public referendum.
2.a. Is the Coon Creek Drainage District located in Boone and McHenry Counties active?
2.b. Is this drainage district being re-activated? If so, what authority would it have?
2.c. Who are the drainage district commissioners?
2.d. How effective/functional is the existing drainage system?
2.e. How will land acquired by either the BCCD, MCCD or IDNR affect existing drainage systems?
No drainage systems will be changed without determining the potential impacts. Illinois drainage law will govern any alterations that could have potential off-site effects.
2.f. Will habitat restoration projects affect existing drainage systems? If so, How?
At this point in time the Boone County Conservation District does not have any habitat restoration projects proposed in the Crow’s Foot area. If and when a restoration project is proposed, the project may or may not involve a drainage issue. Sites that involve a drainage issue will be reviewed so as to avoid drainage related offsite impacts.
2.g. Is a hydrological study being done? If so, when would it be completed?
The BCCD & MCCD has been working with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to establish a scope of work regarding a hydrologic study of the area.
2.h. The Illinois Association of Drainage Districts (IADD) website mentions that the McHenry County Conservation District (MCCD) is pressuring farmers to sell their land. Is this true?
2.i. The IADD website also indicates that the MCCD has $62 million for land acquisition in this area.
Is this true?
McHenry County passed a referendum in 2001 to raise money for land acquisition. They are buying land throughout McHenry County with this money, not just in the Crow’s Foot area.
2.j. The IADD website states that the Boone and McHenry County Conservation Districts are creating a 16,000 acre wetland. Is this true?
Approximately 50 percent of the study area is identified as having hydric soil types or is located within a 100-year floodplain area. These characteristics are needed elements to restore or recreate wetlands. Certainly there is an interest to restore wetlands, and the initial concept did offer the possibility of restoring a large wetland area. This being said, the likelihood of creating a 16,000-acre wetland isn’t realistic.
2.k. Will land acquired in the drainage district be restored to wetlands?
Lands where soils indicate the area was a historical wetland may be restored to wetland habitat if that type of restoration can be accomplished without off-site impacts. Nearly half of the feasibility study area consists of soils that were historically wet. Opportunities to restore some of these areas are likely to become available in areas where no detrimental impacts will occur. Wetlands provide many positive functions. Restoring wetland habitats can help to offset loss of critical habitats, increase capacity for storage of floodwaters, filter out excess sediment, and much more.
3. Land Acquisition:
3.a. How will land be purchased?
The Boone County Conservation District will use grant funds to purchase fee simple title to the land. Grant funds currently awarded will allow the BCCD to purchase between 500 and 600 acres of land. The District seeks to purchase property from willing sellers only. At this point in time the acreage being made available from willing sellers exceeds the level of funds on hand.
3.b. How soon would restoration work be started on purchased lands?
Land will remain in agricultural production for one to three years, perhaps longer, depending on the circumstances associated with each purchase. Land leased for agricultural purposes remains on the tax rolls and will help generate funds for restoration work.
3.c. What are conservation easements?
A conservation easement is a legal document that allows a landowner to donate or sell specific rights to his or her property for the purpose of maintaining its ecological, open space, scientific, and/or educational values. Rights to develop the property, practice agriculture, and commercially harvest timber are usually transferred, although other rights may also be included in accordance with the landowner’s wishes and mission of the organization accepting the easement. The easement runs with the property in perpetuity. The landowner reserves all other rights to the property, including private enjoyment through recreation, hunting, and fishing, and the right to sell the land or pass it to his or her heirs. More information about easements can be obtained upon request (contact the BCCD at 815-547-7935).
3.d. Can I manage my own land the way I want to?
Landowners can continue to manage property they own however they choose. If landowners donate or sell specific rights – as just described above as conservation or agricultural easements, then the landowner would have to include the easement restrictions into their management scheme. Most landowners would know what those restrictions would be because they are, more or less, self-imposed.
3.e. What other programs are available to protect land and water resources, but allow me to keep ownership?
There are several state and federal programs that provide opportunities for landowners to become strongly involved in conservation efforts without selling their property. Some of these programs offer to purchase conservation easements for various lengths of time such as the Wetland Reserve Program offered by the United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service. Other programs may provide funds to restore habitat, stabilize streambanks, or install a wide range of conservation practices. And, there are other programs providing tax benefits or technical assistance. Landowners becoming involved in these types of programs are exercising private stewardship. The Crow’s Foot Concept strongly encourages everyone in this area to become involved and help contribute to the protection and enhancement of the Kishwaukee River and Coon Creek Watersheds.
3.f. How much land is going to be purchased?
There is no fixed or specifically desired amount of land being considered. The feasibility study evaluated an area of nearly 16,500 acres more or less evenly divided between Boone and McHenry Counties. A quick review of property distribution and tax information indicate that perhaps 5000 acres of land in the study area could at some point in time be of interest to the Boone County Conservation District.
3.g. What will happen to property values?
Generally, land and homes adjacent to parkland or other open space has added value. However, land prices are affected by many factors and it is not realistic to answer this question with any degree of certainty.
3.h. Will all lands purchased be restored to wetlands?
Some of the Crow's Foot acreage will be restored as wetlands. Some will be woods, some prairie, and some open woods, often called savannah. Other areas will be open for recreation and picnicking. Much of the area lies within the 100-year and 500-year floodplain of Coon Creek. Ideally, land that has been wetlands in the past will be wetlands.
3.i. Will BCCD or MCCD use eminent domain to take any property?
BCCD has no plans to use eminent domain to take property from anyone in Boone County. There are more willing sellers than funds available for the foreseeable future, and the Citizen's Committee and the BCCD want to maintain positive relationships with neighbors in the Crow's Foot study area. Partnerships with landowners and neighbors will not work if there is a threat of taking land.
3.j. Will homes within the study area be purchased and torn down?
Much of the land within the study area is farmland, with very few houses. Current land acquisition plans are to purchase larger parcels from willing sellers, not small lots with homes. There are not enough resources to attempt buying these lots, and the cost to restore land with existing homes isn’t practical. Land currently with homes is likely to stay that way for a very long time.
3.k. Will I be pressured to sell?
There are more willing sellers than money available, for the foreseeable future. BCCD and the Citizen's Committee want Crow's Foot to be a cooperative project, with support from neighbors and local residents. Pressuring landowners is not the way to foster a cooperative atmosphere, and is totally against the views of the committee members, the BCCD board of trustees, and BCCD staff.
3.l. Can I prevent trespassing on my land if I have a conservation easement?
Yes - conservation easements can be written with restrictions of many kinds, as long as the landowner and the conservation district agree on the terms.
4. Projected use of property
4.a. What will be the impact of West Nile virus from the increased mosquito populations due to the larger wetlands?
4.b. How will the land be used?
The feasibility study includes many uses. Preserving natural areas for migrating birds and wetland ecosystems is a high priority. Public uses also have a high priority, and areas will be set aside for recreation including shelters for picnics, fishing, hiking trails, and possible other uses such as horse trails and hunting, depending on the land acquired.
4.c. Will it all be converted to wetlands?
Only areas that were naturally wetlands have potential to be restored as wetlands. There is a wide variety of habitat type in the Crow's Foot study area, including woodlands, prairie, and savannah as well as swamp and marsh. Approximately half of the land in the study area is shown to be within the 100-year or 500-year flood plain, so much of the land is and will be wet from time to time.
4.d. Will there be fishing, hunting, etc.?
A wide variety of uses have been proposed for Crow's Foot properties. Final uses will depend on actual land acquired and needs, both of the BCCD, Illinois DNR, and the community. The Crow’s Foot Citizens Committee will have a great deal of involvement with respect to this issue. Individuals interested in participating in this process are encouraged to become involved.
4.e. How soon will areas be open?
Land must be acquired first, by outright purchase or easement. Access to property, like parking lots and trail systems will have to be planned and budgeted prior to being constructed. Some areas may be open for some uses in 2 or 3 years; other uses may take much longer. Access will depend on funds available, from state and federal sources, as well as local resources.