Get Back to the Land This Earth Day

Back in 1970, when 20 million people across the United States celebrated the first Earth Day, a “back to the land” movement was afoot. Many people retreated from what they felt were polluted and overcrowded cities in favor of a quieter rural existence more connected to the soil, trees, and open sky. Many of these “back-to-the-landers” took up small-scale farming (or tried), producing what they consumed and learning as much as they could about where their food, clothes, and other goods came from.


The romantic ring of going back to the land lives on, but many have a new take on it. Today, millions of urban and suburban residents are happy to enjoy the conveniences and culture of the big city, so long as it’s within reach of a rejuvenating hike, bird walk, picnic or workday in their local forest preserve.



This Earth Day—April 22, officially—there are lots of ways to get back to the land. Even in the relatively hardened landscape of Cook County, there are so many places to stand on softer ground and breathe the scent of the soil. Late April is one of the most gorgeous times of year to come out to the forest preserves of Cook County. Trees and shrubs are in serious bloom, wildflowers carpet the forest floor, and migratory birds festoon the trees with their bright breeding plumage. It’s a good time to be alive—but it’s easy to forget it’s out there, all 68,000 acres of it.

At Forest Preserve District nature centers and preserves across the county, visitors can celebrate Earth Day in many ways, getting back to the land and giving back as well. Here are a few highlights:


    • On the evening of Friday, April 20, at River Trail Nature Center in Northbrook, enjoy nature stories around the campfire. Registration required, $2 per person: call (847) 824-8360.
    • Saturday, April 21, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., join Forest Preserve District President Toni Preckwinkle and General Superintendent Arnold Randall for an ecological restoration workday at Deer Grove West, Grove 2, in Palatine. Wear sturdy shoes and clothes you can get dirty.
    • Also Saturday, from 10 to 2 at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Willow Springs, it’s all about getting back to the earth—soil, that is. From worm composting to learning how to start your own potted plant to making mud-pie cupcakes, kids can get good and dirty and gain an appreciation for an entire universe of life under their Nikes.
    • That same Saturday, April 21, from 9 to noon, help out at the Earth Day Workday at Bunker Hill Savanna in Chicago, sponsored by County Commissioner Larry Suffredin.
    • Sunday, April 22, from noon to 4, Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington will feature a veritable green smorgasbord including a GPS navigation course, bike tune-ups, fishing-pole casting, and giant land-restoration equipment in action.


    Those are just a few of the many things happening this weekend. For details on these events, and a more complete listing of Earth Day events at nature centers and elsewhere, visit And remember, you can always find events and volunteer opportunities at

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