Marathon Petroleum | A Unique Outdoor Classroom for Illinois Students

Nestled along the western banks of the Wabash River in Illinois is Marathon Petroleum’s Palestine Neal Pit, an 80-acre former limestone quarry that sits adjacent to Robinson Refinery. A portion of the pit sits atop an aquifer which provides water for the 1000-acre refinery, while the remaining land is comprised of a number of habitats including forest, grassland and wetlands. The site’s wildlife team, made up of about 20 employees, works tirelessly to maintain a number of WHC-certified projects – from pollinator gardens and bird boxes to habitat restoration and environmental education.

One of the bigger projects is the site’s nest monitoring program, which was designed to counteract the decline of nesting habitat for migratory birds. To date, over 50 nesting structures have been installed on the grounds of Palestine Neal Pit, consisting of boxes for bluebirds, barn owls, woodpeckers and wood ducks, and platforms for osprey. In addition, several bat boxes were constructed to protect the local brown bat populations from habitat loss and their increasingly limited roosting options. The team conducts regular monitoring of the bat boxes and uses bat monitors to track the bats.

Biodiversity isn’t the only beneficiary of the conservation work done at Palestine Neal Pit; local students also greatly benefit from visits to the site. A number of educational events are hosted at the site, including the biannual “Neal Pit Day” for second-graders from surrounding schools. In addition to a nature walk, half-a-dozen different stations are set up for students to visit, focusing on a wide variety of subjects including pollinators, solar panels and small wind turbines. Some presentations are even interactive, with electricians discussing energy while students pedal on bicycles to generate electricity and solar power.

“To further improve the experience for visiting students, we built a pavilion that is completely off-the-grid,” says Greg Hevron, who leads the wildlife team at Palestine Neal Pit. “Solar panels and wind energy produce the electricity, and a small well and the aquifer provide running water. The pavilion is situated in a remote area of the site so it allows the students to be completely immersed in nature while learning about it.”

While there are many ideas about what project to tackle next, including native plantings and work on the site’s wetlands, the team continues to focus much of its time and energy on the program’s education projects since hands-on environmental education is, as Hevron states, “essential in inspiring the next generation of teachers, scientists and environmental stewards.”

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Quick Facts

Site Name:Palestine Neal Pit
Category:Member Spotlight
Tags:avian, Awareness and Community Engagement, bats, forest, grasslands, invasive species, pollinators, Resources Success Stories Bats, Resources Success Stories Pollinators, wetlands
Site Location:Palestine, Illinois
Partners:Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Local Schools, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pollinator Partnership
Certification Since:2006
Certification Level:Gold Certified
WHC Index Link:Learn more about the program
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