What you don't see is key to Adler grounds initiative in Libertyville
In a serene wooded area north and east of the historic David Adler home in Libertyville, what you don't see is significant to those pursuing a grand vision for the former country estate.
Since last year, Landscape Concepts Management has donated many hours and provided contracted labor to remove invasive buckthorn, fallen trees, dead limbs, and hunks of concrete and debris to transform the area.
The Grayslake company also planted native shrubs along wood chip paths installed by students from Carmel and Libertyville high schools. Interpretive signs to describe the native plants in 14 pods along the paths are pending.
For the first time in years, the namesake Adler Park School is visible from the historic home, which operates as the nonprofit Adler Arts Center at 1700 N. Milwaukee Ave.
"It's been so neglected and so overgrown," said Amy Williams, the Adler Center's executive director. "Just cleaning it up has been remarkable."
Families have been enjoying the cleared space, and photo shoots for holiday cards or other purposes have become common.
But it's the potential that excites a partnership of staff and volunteers working to unlock the possibilities.
"We see cool things like a sculpture garden, interactive nature classes -- how we can look at the world as art," Ellen Williams, Adler program and marketing director said during a recent walk on the trail. "It's truly epic, actually."
Education also is the mission of the Lake County Audubon Society, which has supplied funding, plants and labor toward a joint initiative with Adler known as the Birdscaping Path that began a few years ago and is now showing tangible results.
"People are paying attention," said Paul Geiselhart, chairman of Audubon's birdscaping committee. "I think people want more things locally, and this will be a great place to go."
Volunteers are waiting for snow to sow native plant seeds, he added.
"It's an evolving process," Geiselhart said. "It's 11 acres, and we're working on a small part of it."
Mike Graham, vice president of Landscape Concepts, has done much of the heavy lifting, mostly on a volunteer basis as an extension of an Eagle Scout project.
Graham, the son of the late Mike Graham, longtime Libertyville Township supervisor and open space pioneer, has lent his time and expertise to several projects in the area over the years.
"It's not work," he said. "These are the things that really bring joy to my heart."
Graham also is attracted by the history of the 240-acre Adler estate, which had been meticulously landscaped with expansive formal gardens and other elements, such as neat rows of towering Norway spruce planted long ago.
"As we got further into the project, we kept uncovering more of the original grounds," he said. Finds included remnants of old irrigation systems and marble columns, a period farm implement and stretches of original periwinkle groundcover that blooms in a sea of blue.
Adler lived on the site from 1918 until his death in 1949. He gifted the land and 23-room farmhouse to the village on the condition the house and grounds be maintained and developed as a community cultural and recreation center.
Adler Park and pool and Adler Park School were created on the property. The village maintains the park and home but the house and 11 surrounding acres are operated by the nonprofit.
More work is planned.
"There are three other sections (of the grounds) that are completely overrun by invasives," Graham said.
Buckthorn is a bane to the natural environment because it leafs out first and stays green longer than other plants, suffocating everything near it.
To tackle that, Graham said, "a local corporation dedicated to environmental stewardship" will provide special equipment to remove buckthorn, likely in January.
"Everything we did in two months, they'll be able to do in three days," he said.
Amy Williams said the goal is to get others to buy in to the effort.
"I don't know how you couldn't be excited," she said. "This is all part of the park and all part of our community."