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Profiles in Soil Health - Meet Greg Reising

Greg Reising takes conservation to heart. Read ahead for his story of saving his creek from eroding away.

Greg and Cindy Reising live in Collinsville, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis. Greg works as the Fleet Manager for the Collinsville Recreation District in Madison County. He’s had that job for nearly 20 years. But he and his two brothers-in-law have an outdoor lifestyle that takes them far from the city and into a very special place in Southern Illinois. That lifestyle has given Greg an important role to play in the future of a lake and a drinking water source for about 30,000 southern Illinois citizens.

“Years ago, a close friend showed me the benefits of spending time outdoors, appreciating the land, hunting, and enjoying wildlife and nature,” Greg explains. Today, owning and managing private land is a big part of his life-- and his legacy.

Stream bank erosion

Back in 1995, Greg purchased about 100 acres in Jackson County, close to Kinkaid Lake. The land is about two hours southeast of home, but he enjoys spending nearly every weekend there whenever possible. The lake was built in 1968 as a 2,350-acre reservoir for local drinking water. It was a popular tourism spot, perfect for boating, fishing, and camping. A creek that feeds Kinkaid Lake runs through Reising’s property. “Those acres were previously cropped but we put them into the Conservation Reserve Program,” Greg explains. They planted prairie grass and about 3,700 black walnut and cherry oak trees on the lower field in hopes of restoring the soils and building a place wildlife would call home.

Once Greg got out on the land, he quickly saw several erosion problems to address. Banks along the creek were eroding badly from high and fast-moving waters. Greg contacted Scott Martin, Soil Conservationist at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Murphysboro to get some ideas and some help.

Martin visited Reising’s property and confirmed the streambank were damaged and suggested solutions to stabilize the banks. Because erosion impacts adjacent and downstream property, Scott and Greg reached out to involve other neighbors. Unfortunately, neighbors who were selling property were concerned legal obligations or plans might scare off buyers. They chose not to get involved. Ultimately, Reisings solved that problem the simplest way possible: In 1999, Greg and Cindy bought the neighbors out and began the process of restoring continuous parts of the creek instead of just fixing patches of it.

Over the next several years, Reising worked closely with Martin and NRCS staff to assess the site and devise a plan to repair streambanks and improve the land. “Floodwaters here come up in a hurry and take a lot of the ground with them. Our soils here have a lot of sand in them and that makes them even more vulnerable to erosion,” Greg explains.

According to Martin, many farms and land around Kinkaid Lake experienced heavy rains, flooding, and soil erosion over the last 10 to 15 years. This released tons of sediment into the lake, displacing water storage and increasing water treatment costs for Murphysboro and Ava, Illinois.

Currently, the north side of Kinkaid Lake is silted in so bad that you can’t even get small john boats in. Local leaders hope to someday dredge the lake to restore capacity but not until upland erosion is successfully addressed.

“We had a cliff, a look out area, that was 75 feet high, but floodwaters are eroding it away,” said Greg. Reisings’s plan was to install three stream barbs—two on the creek banks—to act as a barrier to slow water and protect the banks. Flowing water is creating a new path for the creek, and it takes more soil and land with it every day. According to Greg, floodwaters took out an old Hackberry tree on Christmas Day. “The creek looked like a wild river. It took the tree. It was a sad site to see,” Greg said.

In 2015, special federal funds were offered to landowners in the Kinkaid Lake watershed. A joint effort of the Forest Service and NRCS was created since the land is owned and managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, and private landowners. NRCS offered both technical and financial assistance using the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP.

Greg and Scott created a customized plan, and both are ready to take the paper EQIP contract and start getting solutions working on the land. The stream barbs can’t be put in until the land dries out so they can get equipment in the fields.

Greg and his brothers are pleased with the advice and support they’ve received from NRCS. “Scott has been great to work with. He has great ideas and options we all like,” Greg said. In addition to installing stream barbs and establishing prairie plants, Greg has placed other conservation solutions on the land over the years, including planting legumes and food plots for wildlife and using cover crops to improve soil health.

When asked what motivated Greg to improve these acres, he says it’s all about the wildlife. As close as our land is to Shawnee, there weren’t any turkey and hardly any deer. Production Ag has driven away wildlife. Not anymore. Not here,” Greg adds.

Martin and NRCS are happy with the family’s efforts and the community as a whole to improve the land and waters of Kinkaid Lake. “If they keep it up, this area around Kinkaid Lake will be the largest private prairie area in Jackson County,” Martin said. “Conservation can be contagious. At least that’s what we’re hoping will happen around here.“I just wish we’d been able to protect these banks right when we bought the land in 1995. Just think of the acres and the soil we could have saved,” Greg added.

Federal funds, program and technical assistance are still available for eligible landowners in the watershed. To learn more about EQIP and other conservation options, visit the NRCS IL webpage or your local USDA Service Center.

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“Years ago, a close friend showed me the benefits of spending time outdoors, appreciating the land, hunting, and enjoying wildlife and nature,”

Greg Reising