Rob Carmichael, curator of the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, told the Chicago Tribune the chiller makes an ideal hibernating den: "It can be set right at the temperature snakes need to survive in winter -- about 48 degrees."
Chris Kubic, a Grayslake North High School teacher and snake enthusiast, told Carmichael about the possibility the snakes would be disturbed and sent out into lethal conditions. Kubic also discussed the problem with EnergySolutions, which owns the decommissioned Zion Nuclear Power Plant and is involved in the track work.
Earlier this month, Kubic, Carmichael and Michael Corn, professor of biology emeritus at the College of Lake County, moved the snakes. They were helped by EnergySolutions contractors.
"The railroad workers were just amazingly cooperative," Corn said. "They could have probably done their job in several hours but they spent the whole day with us saving as many snakes as we could."
The snakes are now in boxes filled with earth and leaves, about 20 to a box, in the wine chiller. Carmichael said the den held mostly garter and brown snakes, with a few western fox snakes.
In the spring, they will be moved again to a new den site near the old one but inside Illinois Beach State Park.