Green Infrastructure Can Be Divine!

Annunciation Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Parish in Homer Glen, southwest suburb of Chicago

Annunciation Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Parish in Homer Glen, southwest suburb of Chicago

Last week, CNT organized a tour for the Hickory Creek Watershed Planning Group and members of the villages within the watershed to Annunciation Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Parish. The group was eager to learn about the parish’s use of native plant communities to create a unique place in the area and to manage the excessive stormwater flowing over and through the property whenever it rains.

The church was built in 1999 on 10 acres in Homer Glen, a southwest suburb of Chicago. Initially, the landscaping was conventional with acres of lawn to manage. It wasn’t long before it became apparent that very wet conditions made much of the landscaping a nightmare to maintain. Fr. Thomas Loya had attended meetings on sustainability at Homer Glen and met people from Conservation Design Forum. Together they developed a master plan for the church landscape. More than ¾ of the turf grass was converted to native prairie grasses and wildflowers.

Fr. Loya has become an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and inspirational messenger for “green infrastructure”—landscapes that work in concert with nature. Water is managed as an asset; soaking into the ground near where it falls, instead of away from the property to be dealt with somewhere else. Native plants that evolved in the region are conditioned to the climate and can withstand drought and flooding. Insects become interesting instead of pests. The soil, without fertilization, becomes richer over time. And every day yields new sights to be enjoyed by the people that come to sit and walk the property, as well as insights to be contemplated.

Fr. Loya testified to the many benefits that the church has reaped from the transition. People within the congregation are attracted to the church, many staying long after the Sunday service to experience nature. Neighbors also walk or bike on the trails to visit friends or just for fun.

The cost of preparing the site and seeding was only $15,000 and the annual cost for maintaining the native portion is only $6,000 per year. The annual cost of maintaining that same amount of turf grass would be about double these annual costs, so the transition paid for itself in 2 to 3 years. Father Loya’s one regret – not doing it right the first time.

Last year, CNT was selected by CMAP as the Coordinator of the Hickory Creek Watershed Planning Group. The Watershed Planning Group is conducting an 18-month planning process with technical consultant Geosyntec Consultants to create a plan to preserve one of the finest streams in the Chicago region as the surrounding municipalities expand rapidly. For the past two years, CNT has been working with Joliet, New Lenox, Mokena, Frankfort, Tinley Park, Orland Park, Homer Glen,Will County, CMAP, the Sierra Club, and Prairie Rivers Network to build support for the watershed planning.  More information at http://www.hickorycreekwatershed.org/

See more photos from the tour at CNT’s Flickr page.