Over the last few years, visitors to Beaubien Woods on Chicago’s Far South Side have seen an ongoing transformation—not only in the landscape, but also in how we are connecting to the community.
This fall, Openlands will begin another chapter at Beaubien with an initiative with the Forest Preserves to foster a healthy community by creating inviting and culturally-relevant access to nature. Funded by the Walder Foundation, the work will restore 20 acres of prairie and create a more inviting entrance to the trail from Carver Military Academy to Flatfoot Lake by thinning invasive vegetation. The Field Museum will also work with a team of community curators to design a “gathering space” near the boat ramp on the Little Calumet River.
The program is a great example of how the Preserves are incorporating racial equity in our work. For several years, our Better Beaubien initiative has been a growing model for the Forest Preserves for how to both attract more visitors from communities of color and build relationships with the local residents who live near our preserves.
Over the last few years, we’ve increased the number of events at Beaubien Woods that bring out people for kayaking, biking, archery, nature walks and more, and partnered with local schools and early-childhood programs for field trips. This summer, 20 young people from the South Side interned at Beaubien for ecological work and education on the site. We’ve been working with Openlands and community partners at the site, supporting the African American Heritage Water Trail, which traces nearly two centuries of stories about African Americans who fought for freedom and equality.
Through all this, Forest Preserves’ staff have planned and partnered with local groups like the bike and wellness club We Keep You Rollin’, the community health center TCA Health, and the community activation group Black Brown + Breathing. Our work has also included organizations that serve the community, including the Chicago Public Library, Altgeld-Riverdale Early Childhood Initiative, and the Chicago Housing Authority.
I always enjoy my visits to Beaubien Woods and I’m excited to watch this gem of a site right in Chicago continue to show what we can accomplish working together, and with a wider vision of what every preserve can offer.