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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Bane of the FPD

Posted: October 30th, 2017

Liz’s Corner
(More well-chosen thoughts and words of McCormick’s very own co-steward Liz Cozzi. Just in time for Halloween she provides a little pharmacology lesson regarding some of the more baneful plants of the Chicago region)

During this time of year, the forest preserve takes on a darker hue as yellow and white flowers are replaced by brown seed heads. One of my favorite seeds is the pod of the dogbane. It is so large and odd that it demands attention, and when crushed it explodes with silky white threads that stick on your fingers. I like it too because it reminds me of the wolfsbane, which unfortunately happened to be in bloom the night Lon Chaney, Jr. visited the gypsy’s place. Both dogbane and wolfbane are poisonous, “bane” meaning “death.”

Wolfsbane apparently refers to any member of the Aconitum family, such as monkshood, which contains the neuromuscular poison aconite. These are native to the Northern Hemisphere and have been widely used as a poison against wild animals. Dogbane, a name for various members of the Apocynum genus, appears widely in the Chicago area. The name, Apocynum, meaning “away dog!” referring to its repellent/poisonous properties. The toxic principle, cymarin, was used as a cardiac stimulant in olden days, but the plant is more commonly associated with livestock poisoning, with as little as 15 g of leaves being reportedly lethal to cattle.

A final “bane” appears in the Chicago area: henbane, Hyocyamus niger, a member of the Solanaceae family. This Eurasian transplant appeared in cultivation in McHenry County. The toxic principle in this plant is a combination of hallucinogenic alkaloids, and it was reportedly used during the Middle Ages in witches’ brews. I don’t know about you, but all this talk about “banes” is giving me the willies. Better return to the movie I was watching, “Son of Dracula.”

Henbane with Caption    wolfsbane-fall-back w caption Dogbane With Caption


Posted: August 15th, 2017

By Radhika Miraglia

Two years ago, a small group of Centennial Volunteers planted a tree in LaBagh Woods as a thank you to my son, Mateo, who was 9 years old at the time.  Mateo had sold prints of his bird drawings and raised $700 for the LaBagh shrub planting project.  As I watched the young burr oak take its place near the river, I thought my heart was going to burst.

Mateo and I had been inspired by our friend Judy, and her involvement in restoring bird habitat so close to home. And the inspiration just kept flowing from then on. My young boys and I were embraced by the volunteer community at LaBagh.  Dennis helped Arav carry buckthorn to the brush pile and taught him about the fire blazing before them. Patricia showed Mateo the best way to cut those skinny little buckthorn stems, and why it was such important work. Linda warmly offered us homemade deliciousness during break time. Jeff thoughtfully engaged schoolmates in the arduous tasks of pulling garlic mustard and lily of the valley. Countless others were out working hard on their days off of work. It was all so inspiring, and I was happy to have found a place among other nature lovers in this kind and giving community.

unnamed (4) There is a very important side effect of all that hard work performed by volunteers: while they are busy clearing brush or pulling weeds, they are also inspiring and fueling those who want – and need – to find their place in the fight to protect biodiversity.

As the new north-side field organizer with Friends of the Forest Preserves, I have the pleasure to help grow the network of people for whom restoration work brings that same sweet spot of enjoying nature, caring for the land and waterways, and being around others who want to do the same.

I have big shoes to fill. Josh Coles, who had this role before me, inspired so many of us to take the next step or two, or 15, in becoming restoration leaders.  We might not have known that we had the expertise or skills necessary, until Josh showed us otherwise. I’m hoping the fact that he and I both started our careers studying monkeys bodes well for my ability to carry his work forward.

The goal of the field organizer is to build a Centennial Volunteers network around specific sites. This year, we continue to focus on LaBagh, Forest Glen, Clayton Smith Flatwoods, and Blue Star Woods, while planning to expand our reach to others. The program is based on and supports the model of stewardship developed by the North Branch Restoration Project (NBRP), as Centennial Volunteers will carry on the NBRP’s legacy of community-based conservation well into the future. Centennial Volunteers connect to restoration through site-specific work, but should always be encouraged to understand, explore and learn from the broader implications of their efforts within the NBRP, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and the global ecosystem.
Please reach out with any questions or ideas about how you can deepen or expand your volunteer experience. Restoration work requires a team of varying interests, skills, and strengths, and I’m here to support whichever niche is yours. Thank you for inspiring and welcoming me. I’ll see you at an upcoming workday!

unnamed (5)

Radhika is in the dark blue coat looking at her amazing son Mateo.

Photos by Jeff Skrentny

This piece was originally published in “Brush Piles: The North Branch Volunteers Newsletter.” Check out the North Branch Restoration Project online at

Forest Glen Woods: One-Year Anniversary

Posted: April 6th, 2017

By Heather, Certified Workday Leader; Tony, Certified Workday Leader; and Josh, Field Organizer-North, Friends of the Forest Preserves

Forest Glen Forest Preserve is a wonderful natural habitat located in the far northwest side of Chicago just outside the Jefferson Park neighborhood. Tucked in between the Metra tracks, highway 94, and a quiet suburban-like neighborhood, the preserve has remained relatively untouched for as long as the city has built itself around it. Under the direction of the Centennial Volunteers, a group of volunteers have taken to the challenge of restoring this preserve to health, and have succeeded in not only starting to turn around years of degradation by invasive species and human neglect, but have also brought the local community together in support of the cause.
Forest Glen Forest Preserve is a small but important habitat that is part of the North Branch string of preserves. The preserve is dissected by the Chicago River and butts up against LaBagh Woods, which is the last preserve in the North Branch before the urban sprawl of Chicago engulfs the river. It is a very important ecosystem for local flora, including massive swamp white and bur Oaks. Local fauna include migratory and nesting birds, as well as wonderful native species like the snapping turtle, DeKay’s brown and plains garter snakes, and the monarch butterfly, amongst others. Unfortunately, like a lot of preserves in the area, it has been taken over by persistent and destructive invasive species like European buckthorn, garlic mustard, and lesser celandine… as well as being the victim of human induced degradation…the most destructive invasive species. Fortunately, a trusty restoration coordinator from Friends of the Forest Preserves, Josh Coles, took it upon us to start working at the site last year and the Forest Glen restoration project was born. With the help of the site steward, Jonathan Sladek, we scouted high quality areas to start our work and pushed forward with an ever-evolving plan to make Forest Glen a special and inviting place for the community. Since the first workday on April 9th 2016, we have made a staggering number of accomplishments thanks to great local volunteer and community support:

– We have cut nearly 5 acres of buckthorn, honeysuckle, and other invasive brush in multiple quality areas in the preserve.
– We have collected thousands of native seeds from approximately 20 species throughout spring through fall.
– We became part of the North Branch Seed Policy (thanks to the help of a number of North Branch Restoration Project stewards) and dispersed those seeds to bring much needed diversity to the site.
– The site received its first prescribed burn in March of 2017, which was a great success.
– Friends of the Chicago River taught us how to test our water quality and teach us about water conservation (soon they will be teaching us about erosion blankets for gullies along the river).
– Friends of the Forest Preserves hosted multiple corporate team building days to get even more work done between weekend workdays.
– We started working with the Forest Glen community members in restoring a part of the Forest Glen near homes with some amazing old oaks!
– Built an important and ambitious base of volunteers who cheerfully come out to each workday, rain or shine, and make the experience of being at the site ever more exciting and rewarding.

With the restoration projects one-year anniversary under our belts, we have great momentum in tow for the future of Forest Glen. We plan to finish up the strenuous clearing of buckthorn from the remnant oak woodland near the bike path, continue our work in the beautiful area at the homes near Lansing Ave, and we will begin work along the river and two ponds hidden in the middle of the preserve. This is just the tip of the iceberg as much more work is needed through the 150 acres of Forest Glen. We look forward to our workdays in the future and look forward to our time with all the wonderful volunteers and stewards. Please join us sometime!

Forest Glen Group

The Forest Glen restoration project is celebrating their one-year anniversary on Sunday, April 9th. Tony (far left) and Heather (kneeling) have been part of the project since day one!




Before and after photo of a thick wall of buckthorn removed along Lansing Ave.

The 1,000th Shrub

Posted: November 2nd, 2016

By Jeff Skrentny

(Read at the planting celebration of the 1,000th shrub at LaBagh Woods 10/30/16)

LaBagh is home to many things;
Almost 200 native plants,
including a handful of very rare ones,
One found for the first time just this year;
Five species of mighty native oak;
Plus numerous other native hardwood tree species;
More than 100 mushroom species,
one that even GLOWS in the dark;
30 species of butterfly,
one discovered in 2015 that was thought gone in Cook County;
22 dragonfly and damselfly species;
and countless yet to be ID’ed other insects;
Twenty (20!) mammal species,
including American Mink, Red bat, Coyote & Red Fox;
Four turtle species, including one rarely seen in Cook County;
Two snake species (they are GREAT);
Three frog species, and maybe four;
Five fish species (maybe six after a Sunday find);
For our urban setting, One rare crawdad;
One rare mussel, unfortunately now rare;
AND, AND, nearly 190 bird species,
Most just migrants that pass through needing to be fed,
158 of which were seen this year.

It’s not a throw away urban forest.
It is home to hundreds of fellow travelers of Spaceship Earth.

With apologies to the author (hold up The Lorax by Dr Seuss),
The author who first raised environmental consciousness in me
as a child with the nurturing of love for the outdoors
which both my parents instilled in me:

Now that you’re here,
the word of the restorationists seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to bet better.
It’s not.

Listen up closely.
This is important to hear.
You’re in charge of this forest.
This forest LaBagh that’s so near.
A forest like LaBagh is just what everyone needs.
Plant native shrubs. Treat them with care.
Give them clean water. And feed them fresh air.
Grow this forest. Protect it from invasives that attack.
Then the migrating birds,
and all of their friends
will keep coming back.

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

A Day at the Museum

Posted: March 2nd, 2016

This past Saturday I was given the opportunity to job shadow Robert Telfer and Ian Viteri at the Field Museum. While job shadowing Robert Telfer I was given the opportunity to sit in on a meeting for an event they have coming up. This year is the big year event for Eggers Woods. They invite everyone to come out and enjoy a day of bird watching in a group led by an experienced bird watcher to take a group into the preserve and try to spot all the different kinds of birds flying into the preserve this time of year. They will also be asking for volunteers willing to put on waiters and help pull out any tires that are in the lake. This is important to really try and get the community to come out and enjoy this event and, if willing, help pull out as much trash from the lake as they can and enjoy the rest of the day. During the second half of my day a good friend and old crew leader of mine, Ian Viteri who works with youth groups for the museum such as the Mighty Acorns, was able to take me around and show me the many staff departments in the museum. I was able to see the planning and aesthetic that goes into many of the exhibits and given the opportunity to speak with members of the graphic design department, an area of work I myself really appreciate. After a quick lunch I was able to sit in on another meeting where they discussed plans for an upcoming event. It was a very interesting meeting; I got to see what specifics go into the planning such as what speakers they want and what food options were going to be given this year. It was very informative seeing the great detail that goes into planning a successful event.

Fabian-Field Museum1Fabian Rivera is a Crew Member with the Forest Preserve Leadership Corps Fabian-Field Museum2

Turning Dreams into Reality

Posted: February 22nd, 2016

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.”

Fire Management Blog

Path to Stewardship

Posted: June 17th, 2015

Spending a few hours on the weekend helping restore the health of a local forest preserve is a rewarding activity. You get fresh air, exercise, perhaps a bagel, and the satisfaction knowing you’ve done good work. For many, their first foray into helping restore healthy nature is the beginning of a lifelong journey.

Healthy nature is a web of interrelated pieces that support each other. The whole is greater than the parts. So too is the volunteer stewardship community where many people contribute. What they contribute is based on their own interests and abilities and the whole is greater than the parts.
At every volunteer stewardship site in the center of the web, in a non-predatory way, is one or two Site Stewards. The Site Stewards help develop and implement the site’s ecological management plan. This plan lays out the various objectives and tasks to bring the site into ecological health. Too much shade is a frequent affliction in many forest preserves so a common task is cutting down invasive trees and brush to increase the amount of sunlight reaching the ground, which allows grasses and flowers to again thrive. Management plans also include tasks such as burning up cut trees and brush in a bonfire and applying herbicide to their stumps.

Of vital importance are the folks who do the cutting and herbicide application. Everyone can cut with loppers or a bow saw but if you crave more you can become a certified Chainsawyer. To ensure safety and its effective use, anyone applying herbicide is licenced. If hanging around a fire is your thing to enjoy the complex dance of flame and smoke then becoming a Brush Pile Burn Boss (BPB) is for you. The public is happy to know that a trained person is in charge when they see a fire.

While it is often the Site Steward running a stewardship day, there is a large need for Workday Leaders (WDL). A Workday Leader is certified to run most every facet of a stewardship day such as assigning tasks, on the spot decision making, and general volunteer management. Workday Leaders fill a critical support role and can run stewardship days in the absence of a Site Steward. Becoming a Workday Leader is a commitment of time and energy but the need is large.

For some people the desire to restore healthy nature is powerful enough that becoming a Steward of their own piece of forest preserve is the goal. Perhaps you have a background in ecology, are recently retired, or have been an active stewardship volunteer and are ready to go all in.
Through a combination of classroom and field education, mentoring, and individual study you can become a certified Steward. While an Apprentice Steward you’ll mentor under existing Stewards to learn the in’s and out’s of land management. When you and your mentor feel you are ready, there’s a standard evaluation to pass.

If you are a regular or even occasional stewardship volunteer you should create a profile on the Online Volunteer System (OVS) and enter your hours. As you accrue hours you earn thank you items such as a forest preserve baseball cap. The accrual of hours is key to securing a spot in any of the stewardship classes. These classes are required to become certified in the positions discussed above.

In addition to the certified or more formalized jobs there are many tasks that various volunteer stewardship groups have, for example: bird, plant, amphibian, or rare plant monitor, seed collector, tool manager, record keeper, micro-steward, refreshment provider, and more.

Collectively, the various certifications are grouped together as the Path to Stewardship. You can view detailed write ups of the positions including attainment requirements at here:

Douglas Chien, Advocates' Network Manager, Friends of the Forest PreservesBy: Douglas Chien, Advocates’ Network Manager. If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a steward, please email Doug at