As I think back to the very first time I walked on to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County site called Kickapoo Woods, I had very little knowledge about environmental restoration. I began my environmental career with Greencorps Calumet, learning and experiencing things that I’d never been exposed to before, such as plant identification, chainsaw certification, herbicide licensing, Chicago wilderness training, and more. I worked two years with Greencorps starting off as a crew member working my way up to the crew driver then supervising the crew gaining knowledge every step of the way.
Kickapoo was one of the sites we worked on that had the most impact on me. I looked at this site as if it was my baby, watching it grow from a small prairie surrounded by nothing but invasive trees, shrubs, and tons of other invasive species. After five years of working on this site, I have witnessed this small, seemingly unhealthy prairie grow into a large, healthy prairie. When we entered the site, we had to fight our way through the invasive trees and brush. Being poked by buckthorn (Rhamnus sp.), hawthorn (Crataegus mollis), and other invasive species. Not to mention looking at the sea of reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea), the common reed (Phragmites australis), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and the prairie being taken over by thistles (Cirsium sp.).
This is my third year working with Friends of the Forest Preserves on this site, two years as the assistant crew leader, and now as the crew leader of the Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Corps. Walking on to this site amazes me of how different it looks today from five years ago. Friends of the Forest Preserves cleared the south ridge from the eastern tree line to the western tree line acres of buckthorn, pushed back hawthorn on the southern tree line, and removed quite a bit of white poplar (Populus alba) on the northern tree line. Friends has assisted in extended the prairie along with other contractors and volunteers, transforming Kickapoo woods in to the beautiful prairie we see today.
When I walk into the prairie now, I see beautiful wildflowers, and native plants and grasses with very small amounts of invasive species. Going to this site gives me a sense of peace and serenity. I’m so happy and excited about the beautiful transformation. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to stay motivated through removing a crowd of invasive species. We have done work all over, but the transformation of Kickapoo stands out for me. This is my second year supervising the Calumet crew. I can’t think of a better job or group of guys to work with. Friends of the Forest Preserves have completely changed my life and understanding of how and why conservation and restoration is so important.
By: Brenda Elmore
Brenda Elmore was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, and graduated from Fenger High School. After twelve successful years as beautician, Brenda discovered her love for the outdoors and decided to shift careers. She supervised the Green Corps Calumet program for two years before she joined Friends for the past three years as the Calumet Invasive Species Conservation Corps Crew Leader.Tags: Calumet, internships, Prairie, Restoration