Barrington Area Conservation Trust Interns Learn From Shedd Aquarium Experts

Barrington Area Conservation Trust
June 14, 2018

A recent easement agreement with the Sanfilippo family allowed Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT) to schedule this day for budding eco-scientists to work with professionals to create a baseline report of the plants and species in the area.

The easement contains a portion of Spring Creek that runs into the Fox River. The land also includes rare hanging fens. ‘Hanging Fens’ are geological features of wetlands on a slope where exposed clay allows water to seep out and run downhill. Experts believe there are only 26 acres of hanging fens remaining in the United States.

The experts included:

  • Shedd Aquarium Director of Fresh Water Research Andy Casper
  • Shedd Aquarium, Senior Aquarist Kurt Hettiger
  • Shedd Aquarium, Senior Curator Fishes George Parsons
  • Consultant, Aquatic Management and Resources Jim Bland

Barrington Area Conservation Trust’s, Lisa Woolford, Susan Lenz, Nan Alonso and Ethan Woolford were joined by local high school interns:

  • Paige Bowman Freshman at Barrington High School
  • Andrew Yang Freshman at Barrington High School
  • Michael Bedard Senior at Barrington High School
  • Nicole  Hentges Freshman at Fremd High School

“The Barrington Area Conservation Trust works to protect privately owned land,” BACT Executive Director Lisa Woolford explained. “Protecting the waterways matters because the quality of the aquifers where we get our drinking water depends on the health of local creeks and streams like Spring Creek.”

BACT Executive Director Lisa Woolford checks the net for species


The group split into three teams to investigate different parts of the waterway off of Rock Ridge Road in Barrington Hills. Two groups worked with large nets to capture species the Shedd Aquarium experts rustled from aquatic plants and the water edges. Another team in special waders ventured into inlets where they used an Electrofisher to attract fish. The Electrofisher delivers a direct high-voltage current that causes fish to swim towards the area and become temporarily shocked allowing scientists to survey the types of species populating the creek.

“It was really cool when the first fish popped up after electroshocking. I thought it was dead but then it swam away,” a BACT intern shared.

Within the first few minutes wading into the water, they found a type of ‘Heel splitter Mussel’, named because when stepped on - their narrow, sharp shells can injure the foot of someone walking barefoot. Freshwater mussels are important to the health of waterways because they act as natural water filters, feeding on algae, plankton, and silts. Unfortunately, more than half of the 78 species of freshwater mussels are now on the endangered species list.

BACT's Ethan Woolford displays a freshwater mussel shell pulled from Spring Creek


“We found a big mussel that was really awesome,” one of the students from BHS exclaimed. “They took it back to the Shedd Aquarium to identify.”

The experts from the Shedd Aquarium worked side-by-side with the students explaining what they were doing and what they hoped to find.

Seven fish species were identified including:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Green sunfish
  • Bluegill
  • Bluntnose minnow
  • Black stripe topminnow
  • Yellow Bullhead
  • Creek Chub

BACT's Susan Lenz shows one of the fish the caught before releasing it back into the creek


The experience was an excellent opportunity for the high school interns to not just learn about our local environment, but also to experience what professionals in the field are interested in discovering and how they work. Trying to keep their balance while navigating the creek bed and netting species proved to be challenging.

“It is hard to walk in a stream in waders,” shared one of the students.

Student Intern Paige Bowman finds her balance in waders


The Barrington Area Conservation Trust’s mission is to preserve our community’s rare and exceptional open spaces for current and future generations. They are able to achieve their mission through the generous support of individual members, family foundations, and business organizations. In addition to the hands-on fieldwork with students and interns, they also collaborate with the Barrington High School science department, administration, and teachers, to provide in-class presentations as well as outdoor field experiences to students in Investigations in Biology, Horticulture, and Environmental Science classes.

“We need nature to sustain people,” Woolford stated.

Learn more about the Barrington Area Conservation Trust:

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