Down a stretch of country road south of Waterloo exists a vast expanse of land ripe with the potential for conservation projects and educational experiences.
The land at 4022 JJ Road, known as the Baebler Educational Farm, only recently became a place to cultivate programs for youth in Monroe County when the late Vera Baebler donated the property in 2014.
“Vera wanted the property to be kept in its natural state for youth, families, schools and groups to enjoy the beauty of nature through an outdoor learning environment,” said Don Schrader, Monroe County Extension & 4-H Education Foundation president.
Years later, the foundation has made significant strides toward honoring that agreement as Susan Rick, Baebler Educational Farm coordinator, leads the charge in maintenance, cleaning, searching for grants and developing programs and events for the farm.
“From March of last year to March of this year, we did a whole lot,” Rick said.
However, she said a lot of renovations and projects are left to be completed, and will require additional funding. That’s where a new Illinois Clean Energy Foundation grant comes into play.
“The monies generated through donations and the generous match from the ICECF stewardship grant will allow us to clean up invasive species in our forest and around our ponds, improve our roads, fix our overflow problems and dams on the four ponds, (and more), thereby creating a healthy forest and open areas for the benefit of wildlife and us,” states a press release promoting the recent grant.
The Stewardship Challenge Grant includes a three-to-one match of funds generated from donations — $7,000 raised by the community would enable the farm committee to receive ICECF’s maximum amount of $21,000 in matching funds.
Two other goodies are also packaged into the grant.
One consists of “recognition of volunteer stewardship work,” and awards $4,000 for 400 volunteer hours at the farm, or work that promotes the site and stewardship activities on social media.
The other is $5,000 for new equipment.
The grant could generate more than $30,000 for stewardship of the farm. To donate, pick up a form at the U of I Extension office in Waterloo or go to the Baebler Educational Farm Facebook page.
“It’s going to improve the visibility and give the opportunity for youth in 4-H and in the community to experience a country atmosphere. All of this grant money is going to help with cleaning the woods and making trails, and other things,” Schrader said. “It makes the area more presentable.”
The farm committee also received $10,000 from the Oerter Foundation to build a walkway going over a pond at the west end of the property. Rick said one of the activities she plans to add is a once-a-month wildflower walk or bird walk for the public.
She also wants to install public restrooms, a large pavilion and a parking lot. Walking trails will be added after the IDNR completes a site survey of the land.
One of the more notable completed projects was last year’s addition of a pollinator garden. An $11,000 ICECF grant led to the installation of the garden, which attracts bees, monarch butterflies, swallowtails, moths and more.
Rick also boasted that youth in Monroe County can use a new room built into the shed as a meeting space. Then there’s the opportunity to fish for bluegill, redear sunfish, bass and catfish in the ponds along the property.
“It is exciting to see the progress that committee members have made with the projects at the farm,” U of I Extension Director Pam Jacobs said. “This progress has generated group interest to visit and enjoy the farm.”
That includes 4-H shooting sports teams currently meeting at the farm, along with Camp Wartburg fishing and using the farm for one week at the end of July.
Last year, the farm had its first deer hunting season and turkey hunting season.
“So, we’re getting to be a little bit known. We would like to have more (groups coming out) eventually,” Rick said.