‘A tree is planted, and God takes care of the rest,’ Mineral man says
NEPONSET — Since the late 1980s, Wayne Schofield of Mineral has been planting hardwood trees around his property through the Conservation Reserve Program.
The batch he planted this year marks 50,000 trees he's put in the ground on roughly 70 acres of land he owns between Mineral and Neponset.
In 1987, Schofield began his project with his brother-in-law, Phil Wiesbrook. In the first year alone, they planted 20,000 trees, and back then, their reforestation project was known as the largest in the state.
Schofield said Wiesbrook had made him aware of the new CRP program at the time and asked whether it would be something he'd want to get into together.
Schofield's mother, who was an Elgin native, had purchased between 400 and 500 acres of land in western Bureau County, which had been mined by Peabody Coal Co. The land was highly erodible and not fit for row cropping, which made it well suited for the CRP.
The program, which is now known as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), is designed to retire land to achieve long-term protection of the area. The conservation practices are meant to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff and enhance critical habitat.
After becoming aware of the program, Schofield sat down with the district forester at the time, Randy Timmons, and state wildlife biologist, Leslie Clapp, of the Conservation Department who helped draw up a plan with an eye toward wildlife habitats.
Together, they decided on a layout of trees and shrubs native to the area. A variety of trees, including wild cherry, mulberry, American plum, and a mixture of hardwoods, was chosen.
Schofield said when the two came back and shared their plan with him, he said, "Let's do it." He credits their work as being the reason the project got off (or in) the ground in the first place.
"Nothing would have happened if it wasn't for them. I wouldn't have probably ever planted trees if they hadn't said something," Schofield said.
Through the CRP, the state furnished the trees. Schofield and his family just had to provide the labor, which might have seemed a little daunting at the time, but it ended up becoming a family affair. Relatives from the Elgin area came down and helped plant by hand. And a lot of the trees were also planted by a tractor-drawn planter.
Schofield said when the program began, his nephew, Scott Wiesbrook, came down and helped out a lot. In fact, he grew up, studied agriculture, and now works for the state's Natural History Survey. Schofield likes to think the reforestation project inspired his career decision.
For the past 30 years, Schofield has watched his timberland grow into a thick forest.
At 83 years of age, Schofield said he doesn't do as much as he used to with the maintenance on some of the land, but still likes to go out and make sure things are growing well. He's still active in removing any invasive plants or shrubs that threaten the native trees.
Right now, Schofield keeps busy maintaining the grass and weeds around the 2,000 trees he planted this year. He said these last trees make up for those that died the first year he started CRP. Around 2,000 trees died due to dry weather conditions at the time in the late 1980s.
While humble about his project, Schofield is proud of what CPR has allowed him to do on his family's land —which, most likely, would have sat empty all these years if it hadn't been for the trees.
"It was something where I thought, here's a chance to plant them. ... I'd like to do it, and my mother was excited about the idea of it," he said. "A tree is planted, and God takes care of the rest."