William & Gayle Keefer Nature Reserve

12804 Old River Rd., Rockton, Illinois 61072

Donated to Natural Land Institute in 2017

This preserve is not currently open to the public.

Gayle Keefer and her husband William purchased a beautiful property in Rockton Township that had once had a limestone quarry on a portion of the area. The limestone was mined and dried in a large kiln, put on trains and then shipped out to be spread on farm fields. When William and Gayle purchased the property, the area that had once been mined was slowly recovering with successional forest beginning to work on bringing the scarred rock surfaces back to nature. There is a lovely wooded area, untouched by the mining, with Chinquapin oak, ironwood and a carpet of spring beauties.

This land was very special to William and Gayle. They loved the wildflowers and the wildlife. They would camp on their land and spent a lot of time outside, in the woods, walking the trails. When William passed away, Gayle moved to Chicago and sold the house and lime kiln separate from the rest of the property. She then decided to donate the remaining 36.5 acres to the Natural Land Institute to be managed as a nature reserve.

Because the property needs some TLC, Gayle has also generously donated an endowment for the land, so that it can be stewarded, and protected, as it deserves. Our long term plan is for the local community to be able  to access and enjoy this reserve, and to participate in its stewardship.

Thank you Gayle, for your generous contribution to protecting nature in your community!

2021 News Update

by Tyler Pellegrini, NLI Restoration Ecologist

In 2020, NLI was awarded a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) for $32,000 for habitat restoration at our William & Gayle Keefer Nature Reserve! When Gayle Keefer donated the land in 2017 she also gave NLI a substantial Endowment gift to manage this  natural area. The Community Stewardship Challenge Grant will supplement the annual distribution from Gayle’s gift by providing us with fuel to run our forestry mower and saws to clear the invasive brush, supplies to fully eliminate the brush and any other invasive species we encounter, native  seed to plant once the invasives are  under control, funds for an initial bird and insect survey to help us determine what wildlife call the Keefer Nature Reserve home, and even some funds to help us purchase a bat-wing mower which will drastically  reduce the amount of time it takes us to mow down the aggressive non-native plants and encourage native plant growth. We need your help to receive these grant funds.

The two biggest ways you can help NLI restore the Keefer Nature Reserve are to volunteer and to donate. For one portion of the grant, we need 400 total volunteer stewardship hours to unlock those funds. The biggest financial impact though, will come from your donations. As a part of the award ICECF matches donations to the Keefer Reserve at a three to one rate, up to $21,000 total. That means if you collectively donate $7,000, the grant will provide our Keefer Reserve project with the $21,000 match! This is a huge opportunity for NLI and our community to improve and restore a beautiful piece of land for us all to enjoy!

Regardless of whether you are able to donate or volunteer, NLI’s Keefer Nature Reserve will be open to the public for everyone to enjoy in the future at a date to be determined. As our restoration activities progress this year and beyond, new interior hiking trails to view the rare chinquapin oak habitat, oak savanna restoration, and prairie restoration will be available to explore.

Part of our plan for this natural area is also to connect our trails with the Village of Rockton’s paved Woodlands Park Disc-Golf course trails to the south of the Keefer Reserve. NLI is excited for this collaboration because it will enable even greater public access and enjoyment of our wonderful protected spaces.

We look forward to seeing you at the William & Gayle Keefer Nature Reserve in Rockton!



Español »