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Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps Teaches, Inspires Youth

A group from the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps doing restoration work

Three years ago, Lance Williams was looking for an opportunity to try something new. As a 15-year-old with an interest and curiosity about nature, Lance found that opportunity by becoming a crew member with the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps. Today, Lance has moved up to the role of Apprentice Crew Leader, and his initial interest has since transformed into a passion guiding future plans and goals.

Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps, hosted in partnership with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Friends of the Forest Preserves and Student Conservation Association, is a six-week hands-on paid summer work experience in which participants receive extensive and specialized conservation training from highly skilled field leaders. Work performed by CCLC members includes fence building, invasive species removal, trail construction and gardening.

This season, a crew of 12 CCLC members are working at Sand Ridge Nature Center, assisting the Nature Center staff with a variety of important tasks that might otherwise be left on a “dream list.” Currently, the corps members are building a boardwalk for Sand Ridge’s Dogwood Trail. The project consists of cutting down repurposed timbers and removing old hardware, followed by building the tracks and the boardwalk.

According the James Carpenter, director of Sand Ridge Nature Center, the Nature Center has hosted a CCLC crew for seven consecutive seasons and believes the program is a win-win situation. “The kids get a paid summer experience, but instead of just being a summer job, they receive specific exposure to the Forest Preserves and to potential career opportunities in the environmental fields,” explained Carpenter.

For Lance, that exposure has inspired the course for his post-high school dreams. After he graduates, he plans to attend a university to major in environmental science with hopes of becoming a wildlife biologist, something he hadn’t decided until he began working with CCLC.

“The more you work here [in the Forest Preserves], the more you’ll want to keep doing it,” said Lance. “One day I want to take my family here, and show them the things I’ve done. I’m proud of the things I’ve been doing.”

In addition to Sand Ridge Nature Center, CCLC crews are also performing conservation work at six other sites throughout the Forest Preserves: Dan Ryan WoodsTrailside Museum of Natural HistoryRiver Trail Nature CenterCrabtree Nature CenterChicago Botanic Garden and Theodore Stone Preserve. In addition to being funded by the Forest Preserves of Cook County, the Theodore Stone Preserve crew is also being funded by Forest Preserve Foundation and Allstate.

Learn more about Conservation Corps programs.