Blog

Centennial History Series: Who Put the “Forest” in the Forest Preserves?

by Natalie Bump Vena   At the turn of the twentieth century, civic and political leaders dreamed of establishing a system of open land to serve as a natural retreat for Chicagoans. To begin realizing that vision, Chicago’s City Council hired architect Dwight Perkins to compile a report for an enlarged park system in 1903. Perkins in turn asked Landscape Architect Jens Jensen to recommend land to include in what they called an “outer belt park.” They published their report in 1904.   During archival research, I became interested in how and why Jensen and Perkins’ inclusive vision for an outer belt park composed of wetlands, prairies and forests became, by 1916, a Forest Preserve District with the stated purpose of acquiring and protecting natural forests, seemingly exclusively. That evolution was even more puzzling to me because Perkins and Jensen both had strong ties to Chicago’s Prairie School of Architecture made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. While Jensen described all of Cook County’s landscapes in the 1904 report, he made clear the prairie’s ubiquity, writing: “The predominating character of the landscape around Chicago is that of prairie” (83).

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Child Educators Get a NatureStart

Forest Preserves staff benefit from Brookfield Zoo's child development expertise   This February, Forest Preserves of Cook County naturalists and recreation staff spent much of their day on the floor playing with sticks.   As part of the NatureStart early childhood educational training program, Forest Preserves staff were asked to inhabit the world of a child and remember what it was like to explore natural objects in a playful way. The training is a unique collaboration between the Forest Preserves, the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo and two major Chicago-area early childhood education organizations, El Valor Children and Youth Service and Mary Crane Center. It brings staff from these groups together at three two-day sessions over 16 months, one at the zoo, one at an early childhood learning center and one in the forest preserves.

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A “Big Year” at Labagh Woods

Birders raise funds for bird-friendly native shrubs   With spring just around the corner, many nature lovers turn their thoughts to birding and spring migration. Some are already engaged in what’s known as a “Big Year,” a binge-like personal attempt to see as many birds as possible in one year.   Since this past January, the Chicago Ornithological Society has been hosting a collective “Team LaBagh Big Year” at LaBagh Woods, a birding hotspot on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Through the end of 2015, birders are seeking pledges to raise funds for planting native shrubs in the understory, where a recent habitat restoration effort is removing large swaths of invasive brush. The native shrubs are being purchased to provide food and cover for migratory birds such as tanagers, warblers and vireos.

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Did You Know? Those First Frogs You Hear are Chorus Frogs & Spring Peepers

As soon as the ponds and wetlands thaw— as early as mid-March—forest preserves across Cook County will be filled with a rejoicing noise. That’s when our first frogs thaw from their winter torpor and begin calling loudly to attract a mate.   The two types of frog you’re most likely to hear first in the spring are the western chorus frog, Pseudacris triseriata, and the spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer (pictured above). They’re most vocal from mid-March through mid-April, though the chorus frog often calls later in the year as well.

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Try This: Phenology

Since the dawn of time, people have been keeping track of natural phenomena. They looked for signs of when to plant crops, when large food animals would migrate and when trees would bear fruit.   This was some of the earliest phenology, or the study of the timing of biological phenomena in nature (not to be confused with phrenology, the discredited 18th- and 19th-century practice of studying the shape of people’s heads).   Today, people practice phenology in both casual and serious ways. Those eager for the arrival of spring, may keep an eye out for the first robin or singing cardinal. Naturalists record the first blooms of spring wildflowers and the first migrating waterfowl to land on open water.

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Finding Nature in Early Childhood

by Forest Preserves President Toni Preckwinkle   I have many fond memories of hiking through the woods and paddling on lakes with my family as a young child growing up in Minnesota. Research shows that positive experiences such as these are essential to creating a love of nature later in life, and a dedication to protecting and sharing it with others.   The Forest Preserves of Cook County provide a place for children and families to explore nature, where they can feel welcome and safe. We’ve long been a leader in environmental education through our innovative nature centers.

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New Skier Learns Lessons the Hard Way at Sagawau

  We sent one of our staff members out to the groomed trails of Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont to try cross-county skiing for the first time… it wasn’t pretty, but it was fun!

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Green Since 1915—And Going Greener

The Forest Preserves of Cook County has always had sustainability at the core of its mission, but for our centennial we’re taking a fresh look.

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Did You Know? Some Trees Hold Their Dead Leaves Through Winter

Each autumn, the leaves of trees throughout the Forest Preserves transition from shades of green to a tapestry of bold oranges, reds and yellows. But as quickly as the leaves change color, they tumble to the ground, creating a landscape of bare trees.

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Our 100th Anniversary Board Meeting

by Forest Preserves President Toni Preckwinkle   February is here and with it comes the snow I hope many of you have been waiting for. Though we in Cook County often endure some tough winters, we are so lucky to be able to escape into the Forest Preserves to peacefully enjoy the season’s beauty or be adventuresome by trying out ice fishing or sledding at one of our many hills. We also offer cross-country skiing at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont.

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Behind FPD 365

One woman’s bid to take a forest preserve photo every day in 2014.   Readers of the Forest Way may have noticed the colorful images of nature gracing the sidebar of this e-newsletter since last January. Ranging from bird close-ups to landscapes, they are the fruits of FPD 365, one woman’s bid to take a photo of the Forest Preserves of Cook County every day in 2014.

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Dam #1 Woods Habitat Restoration

Major project to expand meadow openings will continue through winter.   In December, the Forest Preserves started a new phase of work to restore 259 acres of forest preserve land near northwest suburban Wheeling.

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A Big 2015 for the Preserves

by Forest Preserves President Toni Preckwinkle   As the year comes to a close, I’d like to thank everyone who supported the Forest Preserves in 2014. Whether you sweated to remove buckthorn from your favorite preserve, purchased a picnic permit, commented at an open house or joined a naturalist on a birding hike, we’re grateful to you for your participation.

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Bluff Spring Fen Goes Platinum

Chicago Wilderness gives top award for ecological restoration.   On December 11, the Chicago Wilderness alliance recognized the work of the Forest Preserves of Cook County and its conservation partners by giving Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve, in Elgin, its Excellence in Ecological Restoration Platinum accreditation, the highest achievement recognized by the alliance.

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Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County