While golf carts silently roll across manicured fairways, monarchs are flitting over tall tufts of vegetation in the rough. It’s just another summer day for golfers and the resident wildlife of Village Links.
The Village Links of Glen Ellyn, a municipal golf course, was established in 1967 with an environmental purpose. It was designed to manage the storm water causing flooding south of Roosevelt Rd. Managing storm water with green infrastructure was an inspired solution that created a recreational asset and a low cost public works project. According to Chris Pekarek, Golf Course Superintendent, the golf course is financially self-sustaining and is not supported with tax revenue.
The course took on a new look in the early 1990’s through its participation in Audubon International’s innovative Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf (ACSPG). Land use patterns had been rapidly changing with an alarming loss of habitat for birds and wildlife. The search was on for finding compatible ways and places for wildlife and people to co-exist. The ACSPG program offered technical and financial support for reducing the environmental impact of golf courses through improved water quality, reduced reliance on municipal water sources, decreased chemical usage and the addition of natural plantings in out of play areas.
Village Links enthusiastically embraced the concept and in 1993 was the first ACSPG public course to be certified. Forty unmowed acres now encircle ponds, carpet hillsides and add interest along the fairways. For years, 200 native shrubs and trees such as red, white and swamp white oak were planted annually, reaching a stable population of 4,000 trees.
Managing some areas as habitat quickly produced results. The morning after six bluebird houses were installed, Pekarek observed a male bluebird perched atop a house whistling for a mate.
In 2018, Audubon partnered with Environmental Defense on a new program, Monarchs in the Rough, designed for golf course to meet the specific needs of monarch butterflies. Audubon International estimates there are at least 100,000 acres on golf courses that have the potential to become suitable habitat for butterflies and bees if appropriately managed. Village Links currently exceeds the targeted goals of the program with an estimated one million stems of milkweed.
During a July tour of Village Links, monarchs were observed bubbling up over dense stands of common milkweed and gliding through pink swamp milkweed flowers. Lavish drifts of tropical milkweed near the clubhouse welcome golfers and monarchs looking for a place to lay eggs.
“We have a monoculture of grass on the course,” said Pekarek. “We strive for diversity in the habitat areas.”
Pekarek’s vision of an eco-friendly golf course led to the addition of a “farm to table” operation in 2013. A poly hoop house grows heirloom tomatoes, mint, kale, strawberries, cutting flowers for the restaurant and hot peppers. Eleven hives provide honey for the restaurant and bar.
Available land is necessary for establishing wildlife habitat but Pekarek identifies a committed land manager as an essential ingredient for a successful project. His tenure of nearly 50 years with Village Links provided the time to visualize the land’s potential and the opportunity to make thriving, vibrant habitat a reality. It’s a model of human and wildlife coexistence that inspires the search for more.