Wildlife is rapidly returning to the White Research Farm south of Belleville as it changes from a crop research site to an ecological showcase.
Urban Baum, retired Belleville Township High School East biology teacher, is the project coordinator. Assisting are fellow teacher Phil Short and students from the school's Ecology Club.
A man-made wetland was completed in July. Already, it is attracting shore birds, Short said. Deer, raccoons, coyotes, opossums, frogs, snakes and turtles also seem to like the farm with its mixture of environments, he said.
Forty Canada geese that used the site as a temporary home recently departed, perhaps moving farther south for the winter.
The White Research Farm is a 90-acre tract on the north side of Illinois Route 158, two miles northeast of Millstadt. It was bequeathed to the Illinois Department of Agriculture in 1985 by members of a family that had farmed the land for over a century.
The gift carried one stipulation - the property had to be used for agricultural research.
For the first few years, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale used it for crop research. But in 1991 the Illinois Department of Agriculture asked the Soil and Water Conservation District based in Belleville if it wanted to manage the farm.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency provided a $91,800 grant for this year and next, to help turn the site into an environmental mecca and teaching site for urban and rural residents.
"In fact, we're trying to aim it more at the urban population than the rural population," said John Harryman, district conservationist for St. Clair County.
Baum was hired as coordinator. He is paid for 10 hours a week, but he happily puts in up to 10 hours a day. "I could not have asked for a better person," Harryman said. "We didn't anticipate getting it this far along this soon. …