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CHARLESTON -- Since 2012, Grand Prairie Friends (GPF), a conservation land trust, has worked towards a goal to protect and restore wildlife habitat, while increasing citizen access to green space, along the Embarras River corridor between Woodyard Conservation Area and Fox Ridge State Park.

Last week, GPF reached a milestone towards this goal with the purchase of 132-acres adjacent to their existing Warbler Ridge Conservation Area. The new parcel, Warbler Landing, now connects GPF-owned land to the state park. Warbler Ridge Conservation Area is a vital part of the woodland corridor which runs along the Embarras River for more than eight miles from Charleston to Fox Ridge.

”The purchase of Warbler Landing brings Warbler Ridge Conservation Area to 1000 acres. This milestone means more forest and river habitat protected and managed in perpetuity for the benefit of plants, wildlife and local citizens,” says Jamie Ellis, GPF Board of Directors President.

Warbler Landing will be actively managed as a bat habitat restoration project. Over the summer scientists will inventory the bat species at the site and collect data on their habitat, behavior and travel patterns. The research findings will guide GPF to manage the land for prime bat conditions including reforestation and installation of bat roosting structures.

This $725,483 conservation effort was made possible through a combined funding effort from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF), The Lumpkin Family Foundation and Grand Prairie Friends. In addition to the purchase, funds received will also be used for ecological restoration and management.

One of several factors that makes the project an attractive grant opportunity to ICECF is the fact that the acquisition connects the habitat owned and managed by GPF to the large state park to the south. ICECF assisted with the purchase other parcels in Warbler Ridge and according to Executive Director Dennis O’Brien, “The Foundation continues to be impressed by the care taken by Grand Prairie Friends volunteers and staff as they work to both expand and improve the quality of habitat protected at Warbler Ridge.”

To date, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation has assisted with the acquisition of natural areas at 187 sites located throughout the state. Learn more at www.illinoiscleanenergy.org

For the Coles County-based Lumpkin Family Foundation, this is only the most recent in a long history of support for conservation efforts in the region, including past support for Warbler Ridge. As Lumpkin’s Executive Director Bruce Karmazin noted, “this grant builds on the previous work of Grand Prairie Friends and continues a remarkable story to preserve the beauty and protect the natural habitat of Coles County. Our board is thrilled at the potential the Warbler Ridge Conservation Area has to make a positive difference in just about every area of our lives.”

GPF Executive Director, Sarah Livesay notes “We are honored to be entrusted with the protection of these natural areas in perpetuity for the East-Central Illinois region. The financial support for acquisition from Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Lumpkin Family Foundation were essential to reaching this goal. As a non-profit conservation organization, we invite the community and our loyal Grand Prairie Friends members and volunteers to donate time, energy and funds to ensure the sustained stewardship of these lands.” Livesay encourages community groups and individuals to attend the GPF Fall Fete on September 22 at Warbler Ridge to learn more about opportunities to become involved. “Warbler Ridge has a dedicated team of volunteers, which assist in a variety of efforts throughout the preserve. We hope to recruit and add to this team for the betterment of the land and increase opportunities for community engagement with the preserve.”

Grand Prairie Friends is an independent, member-supported, not-for-profit, conservation organization and land trust committed to preserve and restore natural communities in east-central Illinois and to promote an understanding and appreciation of natural resources. Join their efforts as a member, volunteer or donor by visiting www.grandprairiefriends.org.

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