Over Mowing of Roadsides?

The following was written by Lisa Haderlein of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County.  I saw it in the Woodstock Independent on the weekend of July 4th in an edition distributed to Wonder Lake and requested permission from Haderlein to share it with readers of McHenry County Blog.

Roadside Mowing

Roadside prairieHave you driven through Iowa?

The roadsides are beautiful. Native wildflowers and grasses line the roads throughout much of the state, offering habitat for wildlife, especially birds and insects.

Further, Iowa state law prohibits the mowing of roadside meadows until after July 15 except under very specific circumstances. The delay in mowing allows for birds that nest in the grasses to finish raising their chicks before the mowers destroy the nests.

The highway prairie program applies to all public roads in the state, and approximately 50,000 acres of roadsides have been planted with native grasses and wildflowers. Not only does wildlife benefit, but so do the tax payers as fewer resources are spent mowing roadsides.

The Iowa Department of Transportation website includes a long list of benefits from establishing native prairies on road right-of-ways, including

  • low-maintenance weed and erosion control
  • reduced surface water runoff
  • reduced snow drifts
  • enhanced wildlife habitat and species diversity
  • natural beauty and filtration of stormwater.

Quite a difference from roadside maintenance in much of McHenry County.

There are two main issues related to roadside maintenance that I’ve observed locally: too much mowing and poorly-timed mowing.

There are certainly hundreds of miles of roadsides in the county that could be mowed less.

I understand that there are safety considerations in some locations – near intersections, culverts and driveways.

But I’ve seen beautiful stands of milkweed mowed to the ground – along with any monarch caterpillars that might have been feeding on the plants – even when the plants are 10 feet back from the pavement.

Can’t we strike a balance between the neatly trimmed roadside and nature?

What if road crews only made one pass with the mower to keep vegetation short nearest to the pavement?

And what if people planted milkweed and other native plants in the rights-of-way in front of their properties?

In just a couple of years, there could be hundreds of acres of habitat for birds and butterflies winding throughout the county.

The problem of poorly-timed mowing is more challenging. This time of year, we all drive past roadsides filled with non-native, invasive and even noxious plants. Chief among these this time of year are wild parsnip, teasel and various types of thistle.

Using US Route 14 as an example, I have seen the numbers of parsnip and teasel plants increase dramatically over the last decade.

This is caused by mowing after the plants have bloomed and set seed, thus spreading the seed up and down the roadside.

Day lilies along the Lake Avenue right-of-way at our home in Lakewood.

Day lilies along the Lake Avenue right-of-way at our home in Lakewood.

The most effective way to eliminate these plants is to mow them while they are still flowering.

Some will flower again, but the plants will be much smaller and the seed production much lower.

The teasel and parsnip are both biennials, meaning that the plants die after they produce seed. By continuing to time the mowing to keep the plants from setting seed, these plants can be eliminated. And adding native plants to compete will help keep the invasives from coming back.

There are approximately 2,500 miles of roads in McHenry County. The total includes Interstates, State Routes like Illinois Route 176, County highways, Township road and those roads located in cities and villages.

Just imagine if even 10% of those roadsides were planted with and managed for native grasses and wildflowers?

= = = = =
When Rod Blagojevich took office, his wife Patti announced that she was going to promote the planting of wildflowers along state highways.

I doubt she was inspired by one of my press releases when I ran for Governor against her husband and Jim Ryan.

My idea was to turn the roadsides into what Illinois used to look like when it was prairie.

I figured that we had lots of prisons south of I-80 where inmates could grow the flowers inside the walls and then plant them.

(I shared this idea in a letter to her.)

It would have been a tourist attraction for the Prairie State.


Over Mowing of Roadsides? — 24 Comments

  1. Has anyone noticed the difference in quality of “public roads” in Iowas as compared to Illinois?

    OR, Wisconsin, Minnesota or almost any other State.

    How about Route 12 in Illinois compared to Route 12 in Wisconsin.

    OR the right of way for Route 53 extended that lies fallow?

    Could it be the decades old corruption that permeates the Illinois Department of Transportation?

    So sad, over the weekend I learned of 4 more friends that moved out.

    Our complacency is disgusting.

  2. Cal, didn’t you get IDOT to stop cutting most cloverleaves to save money and establish nature areas when you were a Rep?

    If so, Thanks.

    If not, get back in there and get it done.

  3. Well if we are worried about animals and birds I suggest we let people leave unmowed areas in their yards, stop using Roundup which has been proven to be a cancer causing agent if too mush exposure, and give tax breaks to property that leaves open space for wildlife and water runoff.

  4. We just made a 600 hundred mile trip north.

    Along the roadsides, there are incredible carpets of yellow wild flowers across landscapes, worthy of any photo or painting.

    It is definitely something that should be considered.

  5. Not mowing in less populated areas is fine for the west side of the county, but not so much towards the SE side.

    Jim B we live in the salt belt and have more traffic, big part of why are roads cost more.

    Although corruption doesn’t help.

  6. Nob you have been brainwashed…

    do you really think we are different than Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan with regard to “salt belt”,

    try the State roads in Wisconsin, namely 51 and 53 that run north/south…

    our roads only cost more because of the endless reconstruction with inferior materials.

    Blacktop will not outlast concrete which is what most northern States build.

    Corruption in Illinois is a leading cause of the inferior roads that we suffer with. A

    dd US Route 12 which is 2 lanes north of Fox Lake, 4 lanes south with traffic lights every mile or less, hit the Wisconsin border and you get 4 lanes divided highway with limited access.

    The failure to build 453 North is comical.

  7. So depressing.

    This article just serves to remind me of how we once revered the elderly for their wisdom.

    These days we have a whole race of human beings that think they can improve on God’s gifts with their arrogance and stupidity.

    And the shame of it is that the truly stupid will always reveal themselves by being unkind and disparaging to the wisdom of their elders.

  8. I agree we should not use blacktop.


    Another problem is we do not hole people accountable now.

    If someone puts in a sidewalk and it has bubbles because of too much water added developers hire someone again instead of holding that business accountable.

    The same with roadways.

    It seems they always give work to road crews every year but why not hold the owners accountable if roads don’t hold up for a reasonable time.

    And to remind people on this blog this used to be a farm community until officials and farmers became greedy and wanted to make a bundle off the land and sold it to developers.

    The more housing we have the more taxes as the more children that go to school.

    From the 1960’s the county plan for Lincoln Rd to Chapel Hill was supposed to be business but when they built McHenry Middle School they made it residential which raised taxes, brought less services to unincorporated people provided previously from the township, and made people have more lawns and cut areas which contribute to lack of space for wildlife.

  9. We all moved to McHenry County because of the Mountains and the seashore; it had nothing to do with not wanting our children going to school with minority underclass children.

  10. I didn’t move here for that if you did Charles Nelson, you are a prejudiced loser.

    You still have minorities here, all the Hispanic children whose parents are being exploited by small businesses looking for cheap labor.

    I move here for the open space and was unaware and am ashamed when a younger McHenryite told me that here and in Lake Geneva when she was a child they had signs, no blacks or Jews.

    How disgusting.

    There is a lot of white trash too who think they are better than others and preach Christianity but will have to answer to God for their sins.

  11. I actually raise prairie plants and have extensive areas set aside for various native plant environments on my property.

    It is open for tours daily 1-5 if I am around.

    No charge.

    Walkup Heritage Farm & Gardens, 5215 Walkup Road, right across from the parking lot at Veteran Acres in Crystal Lake.

  12. Good idea.

    Planting native species along the roadway is a better use of resources than removing Le Villa Vaupell gate post monuments.

    Could probably get some volunteers to assist to cut labor costs.

    What are the blue flowers along Route 14?

    Monarch butterflies require milkweed.

    Some of the native grasses seem almost indestructible.

    Replacing mowed grass would help with pollination.

    Would want plants that don’t cause unintended consequences to agriculture, crops and livestock.

  13. Karma : You are a hypocrite who refuses to live the failures of your politics, but demands that the rest of us do.

    Live on a day to day basis in a Democrat community and see how much of a failure your ideas are.

    As far as Villa, if you want expensive road upgrades paid for by the 25000 residents of Nunda Township, the final product has to conform to state law.

  14. I am not a Democrat or a Republican. I think a lot of so called progressives, including teachers and politicians, talk a good game but don’t act it.

    The President and all elected officials and their consultants should send their children to public schools so they make them better if they are deficient but people are greedy.

    As far as I know Mike Walkup is a republican but he is doing something to better the community in his wildflower farm.

    Jim B mentioned Minnesota as having the right idea with roads well they are a liberal state that actually raised taxes on high income earners.

    We pay just as much taxes as in Chicago even more than Chicago but we don’t have sidewalks in all city areas, McHenry did not do the water upgrade they promised when they annexed east of the river for Gerstad.

    Where is all this tax money going?

    To the schools is the patent answer.

    Well then stand up consolidate, only have one administrator per each school District.

    With Skype, smartphones, closed caption tv one administrator should be able to do it.

    They make the most of the pension money.

    Have a republican rep put up a bill in Illinois to lower representatives salaries (since they are supposedly the highest paid in nation), tell school boards and boards for police and fire and other public workers that they have to live within the budget of the community.

    When I moved here most of McHenry had a volunteer fire department.

    Now we have at least 4 fire stations with a lot of full time firemen, growth has also increased the need for more police and teachers.

    As far as Rt 53 it was supposed to be continued when I moved here a long time ago but people don’t want growth because they moved here but they contributed to the growth.

    No one wants to come to McHenry County with no roads, highways, and high property taxes.

    (Republican controlled since I was here except for a blue dog democrat)

  15. I believe Iowa has led the movement of wild flowers in the right of way.

    For the most part this would mean a substantial upfront cost to first kill of the invasive species.

    (Round-up, somebody call OSHA) and seeding or planting the desired species.

    As far as paving goes, concrete is not without cancer causing materials.

    It’s very costly, rough riding and expensive to maintain or replace.

    It’s an overbuild for neighborhood roads

  16. Jim B the salt belt runs from about Iowa City threw Penn.

    Elkhorn is the furthest north, Bloomington furthest south.

    We are right in the middle of the freeze thaw cycle and most usage of salt.

    The use of salt has increased over time because resident’s want to drive ten over the speed limit no matter what.

    The combination makes our roads the most expensive to maintain.

    Search that if you don’t believe me.

    Those other states either are out of the salt belt or only a small portion of there roads are effected.

    Concrete is way more expensive and people want their roads fixed now, not when the $$$are available to do it the best way.

    With constant up grades to accommodate more cars the secondary roads suffer.

    Fact is MFT is to low when all is considered and should be raised as it’s a user fee.

    Yes there are related other problems as I agreed with you.

  17. Get the suit happy people and lawyers out of the way and less will be mowed.

    When a deer bolts put and a person gets killed, who do they take to court if not mowed to allow for reaction time.

    Yup the local gov agency.

  18. If you just let the culverts and roadsides “go natural” you will get entirely non native invasive species that will cause problems elsewhere through seed dispersal.

    If you want to do this you have to plant native prairie seed (expensive) when you do the initial road work and then maintain it for 3-5 years by mowing and burning to discourage the non native species.

    After that it becomes very low maintenance.

    Ultimately you can eliminate a lot of the mowing equipment and personnel (which gives you fewer patronage jobs to distribute).

    You may have difficulty using the state crews to do this properly as they will be digging their own graves so that means perhaps hiring outside contractors.

    It will pay off, however, in the long run.

    There was an effort at the beginning of the Blago admin to allow for equipment and personnel to be eliminated gradually through attrition while simultaneously contracting to replace the grass with natives.

    However, Blago supposedly started trying to strong arm the suppliers for contributions.

    I know one person from McHenry County who moved downstate and bought a small farm specifically to try and do this but wasn’t willing to pony up, so she had to go out of business and eventually sold the farm.

  19. Well now you have your Rauner so why don’t you petition him and tell him the benefits.

  20. Do not consolidate schools with the current state laws it will increase costs in almost all cases!

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