Blog

Third Annual Forest Preserves Photo Contest

Voting is open October 1 - 15! Click here to vote for finalists on our Facebook Page. To vote, simply "like" the photos you'd like to see in our 2015 Calendar. You can vote for as many (or as few) photos as you want. Voting closes October 15 at midnight.   It’s that time of year again! We’re looking for your very best photos of Forest Preserves landscapes, close-ups of plants, insects, birds and other wildlife, pictures that highlight the seasons and shots of people enjoying the outdoors or participating in our recreational offerings.   This year’s winning photos will be showcased in the 2015 Forest Preserves of Cook County Wall Calendar, on FPDCC.com, on Forest Preserves social media accounts, in an exhibit displayed at the Cook County Building in downtown Chicago and in various suburban courthouses. Each winning photographer will also receive 10 copies of the calendar as well as a Forest Preserves prize package.

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Creative Platforms Breed Osprey Success

Watching an osprey soar overhead is a breathtaking experience. These grand birds can reach up to two feet in length and display a six-foot wingspan—a striking sight when silhouetted against a bright blue sky. While once scarce in the region, spotting these birds in Cook County is no longer a rare experience thanks to some repurposed electric poles and a little engineering.   Even with such remarkable proportions, ospreys were still vulnerable to the widespread use of DDT that began in the 1940s. The toxic effects of DDT and other pesticides resulted in many ospreys producing nonviable or infertile eggs, leading to a significant decline in osprey populations during the following decades.

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Enhancing Our Preserves for the Next 100 Years

If you’ve been out in the forest preserves lately, you may have encountered a sign that read: “Enhancing Our Preserves for the Next 100 Years.” As we celebrate our centennial, we are breaking ground on a number of projects throughout the preserves to help restore native ecosystems, enhance facilities and add exciting new possibilities.  

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Powwow Celebrates the Native Culture Thriving in Cook County

Before you are close enough to see the dance or smell the food, you hear the drum. At every powwow, the steady beat of the drum creates the “Heartbeat of Mother Earth” for dancers and visitors alike. This year’s 61st Annual Chicago Powwow, held September 13 and 14 at Busse Woods, will be no different.   The American Indian Center (AIC) holds powwows from spring to fall each year, but their Annual Chicago Powwow is their largest, celebrating more than 150 tribes from across the U.S. and Canada. The event, which drew over 10,000 people last year, features dance exhibitions and competitions, an arts and crafts marketplace and one of your only chances to sample Native American food in Illinois.  

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Preserves and Abandoned Pets an Unhealthy Mix

A pet store goldfish may not last long under the care of a young child, but it can often thrive in a local forest preserve pond. Goldfish are prolific reproducers and bottom feeders that can quickly disrupt an aquatic ecosystem.   Both state and county law prohibit residents from abandoning pets or releasing nuisance animals outside, but a variety of exotic species are still found in preserves each year. “A lot of people think they are setting these pets free to be in their natural environment. But the reality is, these animals don’t belong here,” said Forest Preserves fisheries biologist Steve Silic. “Animals purchased in pet stores typically are not native to this exact area, because it is illegal to sell wild, native animals in Illinois,” he explained.  

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Broken Refrigerator? Busted Hair Dryer? You Can Recycle That!

In an effort to keep unwanted appliances, electronics and other non-biodegradable objects out of landfills, the Forest Preserves of Cook County has designated two locations as all-inclusive recycling drop-off centers. Two southwest zone nature centers, Little Red Schoolhouse in Willow Springs and Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont, now have large-scale collection containers ready and waiting to accept your recyclable items.   And you can recycle a lot more than you think! Drop off your outdated or broken computer monitors, printers and peripherals; electronics such as phones and radios; and household appliances like hair dryers, irons and coffee makers. Even large appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers and stoves can be recycled. (Click here for a full list of accepted items).   The collection centers are located in the nature center parking lots and will maintain the same hours as the nature centers. The containers are unmanned; however, if you need assistance, please call the number posted on the container door and a nature center staff member can lend a hand.   Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center is located at 9800 Willow Springs Rd, Willow Springs. Sagawau Environmental Learning Center is located at 12545 W 111th St, Lemont.

Did You Know? Milkweed Hosts a Microhabitat

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed. Photo by Irene Flebbe. Milkweed plants (Asclepias sp.) of many species are now in bloom all around the Chicago region. If you observe these plants closely, you'll discover a microhabitat full of insects that depend on milkweed for their diet, reproduction and more.

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Centennial History Series: First Catch — Initial Fish & Water Management in the Forest Preserves

Fishing, ca. 1930s-1940s by Natalie Bump Vena   The Forest Preserve District’s early leaders viewed fishing as a key way to introduce urban residents to Cook County’s plentiful open land. But they faced some obstacles in bringing their vision to life. The streams that flowed through the holdings were polluted and the forest preserves lacked fishable ponds and lakes. In a series of projects aimed to protect public health and facilitate transportation, District administrators partnered with state and municipal governments to clean streams and create lakes in the forest preserves. Beginning in the late 1930s, District staff also received assistance from the Illinois Natural History Survey and the Illinois Department of Conservation to stock those bodies of water with desirable species of game fish.

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Youth Outdoor Ambassadors Program Preps Teens for the Future

How many teens does it take to plan and execute a 500 person event with canoeing, archery, art making and a zip line? Just six—if they are Youth Outdoor Ambassadors.   This new group of six teens, started with a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program, aims to not only get teens outdoors, but to help them build the valuable skills they will need to succeed in the future.

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A Day in the Life of a Hummingbird

Grab a passport and see the world through the eyes of our region’s tiniest bird.   Our annual Hummingbird Festival takes place Saturday, August 16 at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center near Lemont. The fest runs from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm and is packed with self-guided activities, games, arts and crafts and new learning experiences.   Upon arrival, you will receive a passport to migrate as a ruby-throated hummingbird (also called hummers). This passport will guide you through a total of seven stations, each one shedding light on the life and migration of your hummingbird.

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Surprise on the Line: Reeling in an Eel

On an ordinary morning, an ordinary fisherman (with an ordinary hook and line) caught an extraordinary fish. This approximately 30 inch, four to five pound American eel found in Orland Park’s Tampier Lake is only the third eel discovered in Forest Preserves waters in the last 30 years.   A rare find, but the truly amazing part of this story is how it may have traveled here.  

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Did You Know? That Orange Leafless Plant on the Prairie is Rope Dodder

Rope dodder, Cuscuta glomerata, is an unusual looking parasitic plant that will soon bloom in moist prairies throughout our preserve system. This plant develops roots as a seedling, but once its minute suckers attach to a host plant, the lower portion (including the roots) withers away.   Rope dodder looks like bright orange spaghetti; it is essentially leafless and completely reliant on its host plant for energy. It is frequently found in prairies, especially after a prescribed burn. Ecologists suspect that seed germination may be stimulated by fire.

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Centennial History Series: Truck Gardens and Tent Colonies — Early Uses of the Forest Preserves

Tents and firewood at Dam No. 2 on the Des Plaines River in the 1920s. by Natalie Bump Vena   In the Forest Preserve District of Cook County’s first decades, the preserves became a place where people supplemented their incomes and lived off the land. In the wintertime, they cut ice from ponds and purchased cheap firewood chopped from fallen trees. In the summertime, people harvested vegetables from gardens and even resided in the forest preserves. Officials increasingly realized that this intensive use damaged the natural resources they were mandated to protect. So by the late 1930s, they began curtailing long-term and extractive activities on forest preserve land.   Families facing hardship appear to have sought temporary shelter in the forest preserves—sometimes by invitation. In 1922, The Chicago Defender reported that thousands of Chicagoans “saved rent” over the summer by living in “tent colonies” located in the forest preserves.[i] In 1921, the District described these dwellings in romantic terms, writing, “there is a growing tendency on the part of many families to pitch week-end camps, while others remain during longer periods, some passing the entire summer under the shade of the great woods.”[ii] In 1920, District commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution to provide housing in the preserves for people affected by “a devastating tornado” that had swept through western and northwestern Cook County.[iii]  

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EnvironMENTORS Get Students Into Nature

This spring, Ms. Sharp’s seventh grade class at Albany Park Multicultural Academy had a unique opportunity to step out of the classroom and into nature to learn how their actions impact the world around them.   Thanks to EnvironMENTORS Chicago Outreach (ECO) founders—and recent college graduates—Jamie Herget and Christine Chung, these students embarked on a five-week journey covering environmental stewardship, native and invasive species, urban wildlife and outdoor recreation.

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Create a Lasting Memory in the Forest Preserves

Dedicate a tree or bench and make a positive impact on the environment. Those seeking an environmentally friendly way to honor a loved one, commemorate an event or even mark a new beginning, now have a new option in the Forest Preserves of Cook County. With a donation to the Forest Preserve Foundation, families and individuals have the opportunity to dedicate a tree or bench that can be cherished for years to come. These gifts go even further by supporting the Foundation's efforts to inspire children through education and outdoor adventure programs in their local preserves.  

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