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.
Keeping one of Chicago’s wildest places truly wild is a year-round effort conducted by dozens of volunteers.
Palos Restoration group explores what lies beyond the trail.
More than 100 young people will get the chance to earn money and experience the outdoors through a summer jobs program in Cook County’s forest preserves.
Adam Medel from the Forest Preserve Leadership Corps is learning first hand how to turn his passion for fire management into a lifelong career…
“On Thursday February 18th, I completed a job shadow with Stuart Goldman at Indian Boundary Prairies. I decided to shadow Stuart because of his experience in fire management, and my goals of pursuing a career in this field. Fire management is an important profession because of the benefits fire has on ecology, but also because of the danger wildfire presents to natural resources and urban communities near wildland. Throughout the day Stuart and I talked about various avenues to take in order to make a career in this field, and after presenting my goal of becoming a wildland firefighter, Stuart shared resources with me that will help turn my goal into reality. Later in the day, I was taken into Gensburg-Markham Prairie where I met with a crew from The Nature Conservatory. Here I was given even further insight on careers in fire management. As my time with Stuart came to an end, I left with plenty of information to take the next step toward my career goal as a wildland firefighter.”
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 http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/mn/.
By Catie Boehmer, Development Manager, Friends of the Forest Preserves
Chicagoland’s conservation leaders represent a huge variety of organizations and causes whose efforts range from getting more people out on the Chicago River to promoting clean energy and environmentally sound policies. But they are also looking to the future in a new way: they’re looking for their successors.
Now in its second year, the Chicago Next Generation Environmental Leadership Initiative is focused on cultivating an up-and-coming cohort of young people who hope to eventually be at forefront of the conservation movement here. As a staff member at Friends, I was lucky enough to be nominated to participate in this experiment (this is, after all, only its second iteration).
The program is the brainchild of the Environmental Law and Policy Center’s executive director Howard Learner, and it’s an intentional effort to ensure we are well-positioned to take over for our predecessors when the time comes. The unique blend of education, professional development, and networking is unlike any course I’ve taken or industry mixer I’ve attended. And it already feels more productive.
My peers in the group hail from a not-so-surprising collection of local organizations, including Faith in Place, Alliance for the Great Lakes, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Openlands, the National Parks Conservation Association, Elevate Energy, the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Delta Institute. Our roles, career paths, and backgrounds, however, could not be more varied.
That is what makes this experience so rewarding. On an everyday basis, I learn a lot about what’s going on in the forest preserves—which sites our Conservation Corps are restoring, where new trails are being proposed, what species of sedge is making a comeback. Now, that influx of information has increased immeasurably. I have never felt more connected to Chicago’s conservation community—or better prepared to continue on this path.
By Catie Boehmer, Development Manager, Friends of the Forest Preserves
The Lakeside Heritage Walk on Chicago’s southeast side, made possible by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Illinois Coastal Management Program, is now complete. Sprinkled along the recreational walking path of Steelworkers Park at 87th Street and Lake Michigan, the permanent installation of eight educational trail signs brings to life the rich environmental and social history of South Chicago’s first lakefront park and the city’s first steel mill, South Works.
The six-foot tall Lakeside Heritage Walk signs illustrate the site’s cultural and industrial past as well as its redevelopment and emerging biodiversity—from its still-standing ore walls to its future as a thriving green community. The visually-engaging signs provide an opportunity for community members and students to learn about Chicago’s indelible industrial history and the evolution of the Lake Michigan shoreline.
“The Lakeside Heritage Walk will provide the skills, knowledge and inclination to understand what environmental and habitat improvements have been and will be made at the location’s redeveloped brownfields and industrial sites,” explains Benjamin Cox, president of Friends of the Forest Preserves, a collaborator on the project. “The trail will also protect and increase interconnected lakefront open space, which will be invaluable to the surrounding community and help make connections to forest preserve sites nearby.”
The Lakeside Heritage Walk is part of an ongoing initiative to transform the former industrial site into Lakeside—a LEED-certified, mixed-used community that will extend Chicago’s public lakefront corridor. Created through the collaboration of McCaffery Interests, United States Steel Corporation, Friends of the Forest Preserves, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Lakeside Heritage Walk will be a highlight of the 600-acre Lakeside community, a long-term joint venture between site developer, McCaffery Interests, and property owner, United States Steel Corporation.
For more information about the Lakeside Heritage Walk, visit LakesideHeritageWalk.org
About McCaffery Interests, Inc.:
McCaffery Interests, Inc., is a privately owned, full-service commercial real estate company that has been in the business of investing, developing, leasing and managing real estate for nearly 25 years. The McCaffery Interests portfolio of planned, completed and managed projects exceeds 20 million square feet and includes office, mixed-use, hotel, and residential properties, as well as large, master-planned communities and land developments. With offices in Chicago, IL and Washington, DC, and controlled assets and completed developments valued in excess of $2 billion, McCaffery Interests is one of the most trusted real estate companies in the nation. For more information, please visit www.mccafferyinterests.com.
A joint venture between McCaffery Interests and United States Steel Corporation, Lakeside presents a game-changing urban ideal not just for Chicago’s Southeast lakefront, but for the entire region. With visions for a new dynamic and diverse community, the site that was once America’s largest steel mill will transform into a compelling model for a green 21st century lifestyle. Estimated to be completed in 25 to 45 years, Lakeside’s vision for the nearly 600-acre site includes plans for a connected and accessible community, next generation infrastructure, innovative architecture and lakefront access, all surrounded by a vibrant mix of residential, retail and commercial space, a new high school and a 1,500 slip marina. ChicagoLakesideDevelopment.com
Join Friends for a Homecoming Reunion at Dan Ryan Woods for all our Conservation Corps alumni! Enjoy a relaxed get-together with all your old friends with free lunch, and a little restoration work to give back to the forest preserves. If you feel like making a snack, feel free to bring it along! Otherwise just bring yourself, because Friends will provide all the food and tools. We also welcome friends, family, and non-alumni to participate in a fun afternoon!
What: Homecoming with other Friends Conservation Corps alumni and free lunch
When: Saturday, November 14th, 9 am- 12 pm
Where: Dan Ryan Woods, by the 91st-Beverly Hills Metra Stop, Chicago, Il 60643