Buffer Success Stories from Landowners, Farmers, Conservation Groups and Community Leaders

Trees Forever works with landowners, farmers, conservation groups and community leaders to plant trees and native grasses in buffers along rivers, streams and waterways. These conservation efforts improve water quality, soil retention and wildlife habitat. 

Here are some stories from some of our recent participants of Trees Forever’s Working Watersheds: Buffers & Beyond, Illinois Buffer Partnership and/or Pollinator Habitat Conservation programs.


From Flood to Fabulous - DeWitt County, Illinois


Walter Clark, of Normal, Illinois, owns 40 acres along Kickapoo Creek in northern DeWitt County. Formerly the site was planted in corn and soybeans.  In 2005, he applied to the Illinois Buffer Partnership program to plant trees, shrubs, and native wildflowers along the creek for streambank erosion control.  Then the flooding came in 2008, drowning the entire planting.  Walt applied to the Illinois Buffer Partnership program again in 2008 to help replant the buffer.  He has enrolled 30 acres into a permanent easement with the Conservation Reserve Enhance Program (CREP).  He said that it’s been fun to watch the plantings develop.  He estimates that he’s planted nearly 300 trees on the property, staking each one, to protect from deer.  He continues to water his trees, especially during drought conditions.  He has started using fire as a management tool in keeping the invasive species under control in the prairie planting.  Walt’s advice for undertaking a planting of this size is to have time to water, protect the trees from deer, and prioritize tasks to a manageable level.  It can become overwhelming, thinking of the entire project.  He enjoys the fruits of his labor by sitting on the porch of his cabin relaxing and watching the wildlife throughout his property.  “At the end of the day, there’s nothing more peaceful than sitting on the porch, listening to the owls hoot off in the distance, seeing the deer frolic at the edge of the woods, hearing the sounds of the pheasants and quail out in the prairie, and watching the butterflies fluttering from flower to flower before dark.”



Many Many Monarchs - Tazewell County, Illinois


Driving along Rt. 24 in northern Tazewell County, Illinois, among the fields of corn and soybeans, Mitch and Charli Gregory’s fields of wildflowers stand out.  In 2015, with assistance from the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Trees Forever’s Pollinator Habitat Conservation program, the Gregorys’ planted nearly 27 acres of wildflowers, adding on to the 6 acres of pollinator habitat that they planted on their own in 2000.  Mitch’s grandparents taught him from an early age to always have an area on the farm set aside for nature.  His early love of nature has transformed their quarter horse breeding farm into a haven for monarchs and other wildlife.  Every year, Mitch and Charli burn a different section of the prairie, and provide the local fire dept. a copy of their burn plan.  They have wonderful cooperation from their neighbors, in fact, they encouraged one of their neighbors to plant a buffer along the creek that runs through both of their farms.  According to Mitch, the success of their plantings has been 50% luck, a love of nature, and lots of energy and work.  Their efforts and hard work paid off in 2018 during the fall migration of monarchs.  Thousands of monarchs visited their farm for more than a week, roosting in the trees and feeding on the wildflowers.  The sight of those vast numbers of monarchs was amazing!




Hands-On Conservation Lesson - Floyd County, Iowa


Floyd County (Iowa) Conservation staff have been working to improve the northeast portion of the Fossil and Prairie Park, a large 400-acre complex that is home to the Fossil and Prairie Center, Devonian fossils, remnant prairies, and historic kilns used by the Rockford Brick and Tile Company.  Last year a canoe access to the Winnebago River was improved and visitor parking added that will especially improve access to the historic site.  Then staff worked to improve the tree species diversity, improve wildlife habitat, slow down water drainage to the river, and improve water quality.  The Working Watersheds: Buffers and Beyond grant supported the planting of 30 landscape-sized trees to achieve these goals, which included a variety of hackberry, bur oak, red oak, white oak and Norway spruce.  Students from Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock’s high school agriculture class helped plant the trees in May 2018 and learned about the many benefits trees provide.  Floyd CCB director Adam Sears explains, “Having the chance to collaborate with the local schools and the Trees Forever program has been a great opportunity for Floyd County Conservation to improve water quality and habitat as well as a great opportunity to educate the students on the process needed to properly plant a tree. The students observe proper planting techniques before breaking into groups of four or more and then apply their recently acquired skills. In our experience with this program, the students have been great to work with and are eager to learn!”





Improving Water Quality - Brighton, Illinois


After only one year, landowner David Weishaupt says he sees a dramatic improvement in water quality due to the new buffer by his pond. In 2017 the Brighton, Illinois, area landowner planted 70 hardwoods and conifers to lessen heavy soil loss from the adjacent crop field and has been amazed at the results. His pond “no longer looks like a chocolate milkshake!”


David uses a variety of management techniques on his property including keeping the buffer mowed and using tree guards. His small herd of goats graze his woodlands for honey suckle, poison ivy and other invasive plants. His Muscovy ducks sweep through the buffer eating Japanese beetles. Before he installed the buffer, the ducks ate algae growing on his pond. He’s also learned some lessons the hard way. After mowing around his conifers he left his electric fence down for just one night and the deer quickly found his white pines. With advice from a neighboring vegetable farmer, he is installing a new system of deer deterrent fencing.


David continues to make conservation improvements on his property. He plans to install pollinator plantings in the buffer and continue plantings in the waterways draining to the pond. He has also dredged the pond which is a favorite spot for his grandkids who love to visit and for whom he says he is doing this project. He also has planted 100 Chinese chestnut trees in a field on his property. 


He would recommend conservation buffers to anyone. His neighbor has started plantings in his waterways as well. He says visitors are amazed at the progress he’s made. His excitement is obvious. “I can’t wait for the buffer to take off!”





Money CAN Grow on Trees! - Denver, Iowa


“Where can we get chestnuts?” This question led Renè and Nikki Valverde of Denver, Iowa, to create Chestnut Hill Family Farm. Growing up in New York, Renè Valverde roasted chestnuts on street corners during the holidays. He married an Iowa girl, and after moving to the Midwest, they could not find chestnuts anywhere. They did their research – worked with the local NRCS office and consulted with Tom Wahl of Red Fern Farm – then dug in to start Chestnut Hill Family Farm. The couple, with the help of their children, family and friends, planted 450 chestnut seedlings in a former row crop field. The family shared their story at Iowa Nut Growers Association and Trees Forever’s Nuts for Water Quality Field Day. In four to five years, the family will harvest their first chestnuts with full production coming three or four years later. It turns out money really can grow on trees!











Want more stories? Read the Buffer Success Stories from 2017.