2012 Photo Contest Runner up: "Calumet Is My Backyard" student monitoring at Beaubien Woods near Chicago, Laura Milkert
2012 Photo Contest Runner up: "Calumet Is My Backyard" student monitoring at Beaubien Woods near Chicago, Laura Milkert

Archive for the ‘Volunteer’ Category

Owl Whitewash

Posted: November 17th, 2017

by Eileen Sutter, Volunteer Steward at Watersmeet Forest Preserve

One sign of the presence of owls in our woods is whitewash, splatters of thick chalky paste on the ground and on tree branches found around owl roosting spots. Owls typically have night time and day time roosting spots; the night time spot is likely to be near good hunting grounds in the territory, while the day time spot is chosen for its seclusion and cover from predators and pesky crows. Owl white wash is produced by the kidneys, and is the equivalent of urine in mammals. Mammals excrete waste as urea dissolved in urine, but owls excrete urea as uric acid, which has a low solubility in water, so it forms a thick white paste. Owls also produce owl pellets, the accumulation of indigestable material like hair and bones from the food they eat. These pellets are stored in the owl’s gizzard and regurgiated once or twice a day, often under their day time and night time roosts. Regurgitation clears the digestive tract and releases the pressure of the gizzard on the esophagus, allowing the owl to eat again. The presence of owl pellets can guide you to the owl’s roosting spot. It’s a piece of great luck to see an owl in the woods, because of their camouflage, but carefully checking the area where you find signs of an owl like whitewash or pellets can increase your odds of a sighting.

Owl Whitewash

Photo by Eileen Sutter

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 josh@fotfp.org 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.

From Passionate Volunteer to Program Assistant

Posted: October 6th, 2016

I’m Maggie Jones and I was the Program Assistant for the Forest Preserve Experience Program this past summer. 

My interest in all things outdoors began as a kid growing up in eastern Iowa. I loved animals and plants and exploring what my backyard and local parks had to offer. Some of my favorite memories from growing up are taking the family dog to the nearest county park and walking the trails.

I didn’t expect to get involved in conservation or environmental education in Chicago, of all places. The big city and nature weren’t correlated in my mind. I figured I’d need to drive two hours to experience the great outdoors, a trade-off I was willing to accept. I’d visit the zoo occasionally and volunteered there one summer staffing education carts and sharing information about animals and care practices. One thing I found especially fascinating was that the zoo keepers offered enrichment to the rhinos by placing different spices around their habitat each day. This stimulated their minds and kept the rhinos psychologically healthy.

It was a visit to the North Park Village Nature Center where the learning became local. I first visited for their Maple Syrup Fest and loved what the staff offered to young and old with hands-on activities and learning opportunities. Soon after, I began volunteering with the Nature Center’s “Neighborhood Naturalist” program, leading third graders on tours of the center and teaching them about our local environment. Those kids loved turning over logs to find little bugs – they were learning that life is everywhere! They were just as excited to find roly poly’s as they were to spot a deer. I continued to help with tours and special events as well as participated in the center’s educational classes for my own interests.

Last summer I saw a call for volunteers at LaBagh Woods on social media. I’d been to LaBagh once before, for a picnic and brief walk into the woods and since I lived nearby, I decided to volunteer. Josh Coles, the north side Field Organizer for Friends, was leading the workday the first time I volunteered. He showed us how to remove the (new-to-me) buckthorn and how to collect (new-to-me) ramp seeds. Then we took a walk through the woods where we saw a slough and learned how the hydrology in the area changes. We also observed a towering cherry tree that had been struck by lightning and had a fresh scar line across its trunk – it was hauntingly beautiful. That first volunteer day was a great experience, one which encouraged me to return again and again to LaBagh workdays. I continue to volunteer at LaBagh and started volunteering at Forest Glen when the volunteer stewardship program launched this past spring.

These volunteer opportunities led me to my job as Program Assistant with Friends of the Forest Preserves. There is a wonderful network of people dedicated to the work they do and who want to see others succeed in this field. Chicago is certainly a place where you can find and make an impact on the local environment.


Maggie Jones continues to volunteer at LaBagh Woods and Forest Glen Woods.

Portage Woods

Posted: June 22nd, 2016

Have you ever heard of Portage Woods? Let me give you a little history on it. It is thought to be the birthplace of Chicago because of the first encounter of French explorers Père Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet back in 1673. They passed by there by mistake, trying to find the “Great Lake.” Because of this new and convenient route that connected the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico by linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, Chicago rapidly became a metropolis. Portage Woods is one of only two National Historic Sites in Illinois that is not owned by the National Park Service; this is why it is so important.

Portage Woods does not have a steward, but a small and mighty group of volunteers gather together at the end of every month to work on getting invasive species out. On the morning of Saturday May 28th, they all gathered together at Portage Woods to plant over 500 native Blue Flag Iris; shrubs, such as Dark Green Rush and Nodding Bulrush; and sedges, like Common Lake Sedge and Brown Fox Sedge. It was a project funded by Phillip Dowd.

This project had three different stages. The first stage was to cut all invasives around and in the planting area. The second stage was to herbicide all the burdock. And the last stage was to plant and cage in the plants to protect them from getting eaten by the deer. As time passes by, we hope that these sedges and rushes attract butterflies, moths, and birds.

We put the spotlight on some of the incredible volunteers that came out – check it out below!

Alessandra is a volunteer that just recently joined the group at Portage Woods. She is a freshman at Queen of Peace High School. After learning about opportunities in school, she joined the Environmental Task Force, which is an extracurricular club at Queen of Peace High School that took the initiative to adopt Portage Woods. After coming out on a few work days, she has become interested in careers in environmental science.

Jim comes out to Portage Woods to walk the Salt Creek trail system with his wife or to ride his bike. One day while riding his bike, he heard a noise coming from somewhere in the woods, so he decided to go and see what was going on. He saw the volunteer signs that led him to the volunteer group that goes out the last Saturday of each month. This was six years ago and he’s been a volunteer ever since! Jim’s whole family has a passion for the outdoors. So, a few months ago Jim brought his son to a work day, getting his family involved in the restoration projects.

Liz began volunteering at Portage Woods back in 2009 after she took one of the history tours. She doesn’t only volunteer out in the forest preserves of Cook County, but at animal shelters as well. She enjoys bird watching during her free time and loves spending time outdoors because she finds it relaxing. She is very excited to see the shrubs planted today grow!

Elise began volunteering at Portage Woods after she took one of the history tours offered. She started volunteering in late September 2015. She not only volunteers at Portage Woods, but also at Little Red School House. Being out in nature has been part of her life since she was a little girl. She loves it! She considers the work she does out in the woods to be her workout. She enjoys the work and feels she is making a difference by helping.

If you are ever interested in being part of the volunteer group at Portage Woods, contact Iza Redlinski at izabella.redlinski@cookcountyil.org.

By Gloria Orozco
Assistant Crew Manager, Friends of the Forest Preserves

Planting Plugs at Portage  Fencing at Portage3  Portage

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.

Homecoming Reunion

Posted: September 3rd, 2015

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

View the map here.

Click here to sign up!