Blue spotted salamanders survive the salted parking lot at Somme Woods East, thanks to the hard work of volunteers. Photo credit: Stephen Packard
Blue spotted salamanders survive the salted parking lot at Somme Woods East, thanks to the hard work of volunteers. Photo credit: Stephen Packard

Archive for the ‘Plants and Animals’ Category

Pitch in to help Dan Ryan Woods

Posted: February 21st, 2017

Spending a few hours regularly to volunteer at the Dan Ryan Woods is a great idea, too. Not every community has such a natural jewel.

Powderhorn recipient of support for major restoration project

Posted: January 24th, 2017

By Douglas Chien, Powderhorn Site Steward

Contained within Powderhorn Lake Forest Preserve is a very special and rare place, a place with an exciting ecological restoration project happening soon. A project that myself and a team of volunteers have worked towards for the past 10-years.

Powderhorn Prairie Nature Preserve is the only Illinois Nature Preserve within the City of Chicago and is a rare dune and swale ecosystem; low sand dunes separated by wetlands. Dune and swale once covered much of the southern end of Lake Michigan before European settlement and subsequent industrialization. At Powderhorn, you can experience a landscape utilized by Native Americans but then seen as wasteland by later residents. Today, one can stand on a dune and be in a high quality sand prairie then walk 20’ and be knee deep in a high quality wetland.

Along the first sand dune, past soil disturbance, the absence of ecological stewardship, and especially the lack of prescribed fire, allowed eastern cottonwood trees (Populus deltoides) to get established and grow to maturity. With a canopy of large cottonwood trees, the once rich layer of grasses, sedges, and flowers died out. Fortunately the remaining six sand ridges remained healthy and continue to provide homes for a variety of insects, butterflies, and other animals.

Thanks to support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program about 300 large cottonwood trees will be cut down. With proper structure restored, the area will be seeded with flowers, grasses and sedges collected on site. Over the next several years we expect to see a healthy mix of native plants and corresponding wildlife return. We’ll also be vigilant about stopping invasive plants from gaining command of the area.

This is a highly visible project as the area being cleared is along Brainard Ave. A well traveled route between Indiana and the Hegewisch neighborhood. The Forest Preserves of Cook County have been a valuable partner in this project, providing technical support and additional funding.

Volunteer stewardship days are the 3rd Saturday of the month from 9 am till Noon. Drop me a line if you’ve any questions or would like to come out and help. Special thanks to my fellow Site Steward Alice and our regular crew: Matt, Jay, Oliver, Tom, and Nik.

Somme Winter Solstice Bonfire & Celebration

Posted: December 1st, 2016

This annual tradition in the woods will include a GIANT bonfire and a bagpiper!

Please bring snacks to share.

Festivities start at 2pm at Somme Woods East and is completely FREE!

See map.

Contact Josh Coles at for more information.

One Of City’s Wildest Places Becoming Wilder With Planting of 1,000th Shrub

Posted: October 28th, 2016

Keeping one of Chicago’s wildest places truly wild is a year-round effort conducted by dozens of volunteers.

Encounter Spears Woods

Posted: October 6th, 2016

Palos Restoration group explores what lies beyond the trail.

Friends of the Forest Preserves grow, naturally

Posted: June 16th, 2016

Friends of the Forest Preserves number more than 3,000 committed volunteers and members, but more are always welcome to join.

Changing Perspectives on Camping

Posted: May 16th, 2016

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about camping? Take a second to really think. Did you think about a nice pristine lake? Or did you think about a set of mountains that light bounces right off of into the meadows? If you’re like Dyrell Williams, Friends of the Forest Preserves Palos division Advanced Crew member, when you hear camping you think of raccoons, possums, and other late night raiders. Though now, Dyrell would be the first to tell you how exciting and impactful camping can be. All thanks to the initiative of The Chicago Park District Front Country Leadership Training. Dyrell attended a two day field training that taught him how to safely lead hikes in the wilderness; set up a tent properly; prepare, cook, and safely store food; as well as operate in the safest way possible while away from civilization. The experience changed Dyrell’s perspective of camping as a whole to a brighter and maybe more desirable journey that he can take.

Dyrell Williams, Calumet Conservation Corps crew member, Friends of the Forest Preserves    Displaying IMG_0920.JPGDisplaying IMG_0920.JPGCamping

By Dyrell Williams, Palos Division Advanced Crew Member

7th Annual Photo Contest Exhibit

Posted: May 9th, 2016

Ambassador to the Chicago Botanic Garden (1)

Please join Friends of the Forest Preserves for an informal evening of art, inspired by nature.

Refreshments will be served.

Friday June 17th, 2016
6 PM – 8 PM
Franklin Framing
13019 S. Western Ave.
Blue Island, IL 60406

This event is free. Donations will be accepted at the door.
You can make a donation in lieu of attending, on our website.

To RSVP email or call (312) 356-9990

The Green Brick Road: My journey as an environmentalist

Posted: January 6th, 2016

It all started with a stuffed polar bear. That is how my journey as an environmentalist began. It was gifted to me as a child and I still have it to this day. I became so attached to that stuffed polar bear that I remember watching those commercials about dying polar bears on melting icebergs and feeling like I personally needed to save my stuffed polar bear. But it was later when I took Environmental Science in high school that my love for the environment really took off. I remember collecting data on crawfish and exploring prairies during our field trips. It was during that time that the enormity of our planet’s environmental problems hit me. The sense of doom that a lot of us who care about protecting the environment feel became real to me in high school. I knew at that point that whatever I would end up studying in college and later pursuing as a career would revolve around protecting the environment.

Growing up in Lemont I also had access to a lot of Cook County’s forest preserves. Exploring the forests and going camping in Wisconsin became a pastime of mine. All this greatly shaped the goals and dreams of my life, but it was when I studied Sustainable Development in India that my day to day really changed. Living in a culture that wasted so little has affected my trash output enormously. Now I am very conscious of all the trash I produce and try to be intentional about using reusable cups and bottles. Buying secondhand clothing and eating less dairy have also become habits of mine. Currently, as the Research and Office Management Intern for Friends of the Forest Preserves, I have gotten the opportunity to interact with nature within the city’s limits. I am more than thrilled to continue my journey of exploration and curiosity as an environmentalist for the rest of my life.

Kathy MachajBy: Kathy Machaj, Research and Office Management Intern

Master Naturalists in Cook County

Posted: October 28th, 2015

One century ago this year, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign launched its flagship outreach effort in the form of the Extension School (you can learn more about its history here). Today, Extension offers educational programs in all of Illinois’ 102 counties. Coincidentally, the school shares its centennial anniversary with none other than the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Yet a connection was not forged between the two until very recently—last year, to be exact.

The inaugural Master Naturalist program was established close to U of I’s homebase in central Illinois in 2005. Then and now, it covers Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion Counties, as well as the Champaign County Forest Preserves and Urbana Park District. The program promotes nature-based community service by citizen volunteers. By providing participants with science-based educational opportunities, it better equips them to share natural resource information with the public and to become engaged and effective environmental stewards.

It took nearly a decade before the program was expanded to address the natural history, environment, and conservation issues of Cook County—despite that it’s home to the oldest and largest forest preserve district in the nation. In its recent history, of course, the forest preserves were subject to a great deal of abuse and neglect. Ancient prairies and woodlands had been replaced by impassible thickets of invasive brush, land had been sold off, and the landscape was dotted not with a diversity of species but with litter. Thousands of acres were protected, but few offered an ideal setting in which to learn about the county’s unique flora, fauna, and ecology.

The preserves have since made quite the comeback. Many sites have been restored under the careful guidance of dedicated stewards, volunteers, and even Friends’ own intern corps. Nearly 1,000 acres meet the Illinois Natural Area Inventory’s criteria for high-quality habitat. More than 1,200 species of native plants and 300 species of native birds thrive in the preserves. And 10,200 acres of lakes and ponds (not including Lake Michigan), 2,300 acres of swamps and marshes, and 576 miles of creeks and rivers host nearly 100 species of fish—not to mention a variety of other aquatic life (more information on the preserves’ natural and cultural resources, as well as how the District plans to manage them for the next century, can be found here).

And so, a mosaic of forest preserves ranging in condition from pristine to vulnerable spans the county. This variety of sites provide the ideal environment to train Master Naturalists—the latest class of which I was accepted into earlier this year. As we cover units such as mammals, reptiles, geology, hydrology, botany, archaeology, and the climate of Cook County, healthy and accessible sites represent the best-case forest preserve scenarios. We’re trained in restoration techniques for sites overrun with buckthorn, damaged by erosion, or encroached upon by development, but these sites also afford invaluable perspective.

Armed with the knowledge we gain from those preserves, and from the experts who work in them, the second class of Cook County Master Naturalists will be finishing the program at the end of October. Graduates will be equipped to conduct restoration work, lead students on field trips, and volunteer in a variety of capacities. We will be the latest in a long line—Friends’ included—of advocates for our forest preserves.

More information about the Cook County Master Naturalist program can be found at

Catie BoehmerBy Catie Boehmer, Development Manager, Friends of the Forest Preserves