The Forest Preserves boasts a large network of volunteers doing incredible work all across the County like restoring habitat, monitoring plant and animal populations, patrolling our trails, supporting special events and so much more. Though many volunteers fly solo, like Trail Watch volunteers, or work in small groups, like stewardship volunteers, each individual belongs to this larger, like-minded community of people who love nature and care for the Preserves.
“Back in 2003 I saw an ad in the paper for a talk Pat Hayes was giving at the local library about ecological restoration at Orland Grassland. I went and was just amazed at her enthusiasm. Maybe a month or two later I actually went to my first workday. Just being around all these people and having a good time got me hooked. I kept coming back and learning at every workday. Over time I got the different certifications and became a Steward.
“Being out here when there’s a brushpile burn, snow on the ground, and it’s actively snowing is like the trifecta of awesomeness. The other thing I really enjoy is when we get high school groups or just kids coming out for community service. Every once in a while you get a small percentage of kids who really want to understand the work we’re doing and ask a lot of questions. You hope that one of the things you talked about is enough to inspire them. If we don’t find the next generation to take over this work, we’re just spinning our wheels. We have to make sure there are people behind us—the next generation and the generation after that—to maintain this and just make it better for the community, the county, and ultimately the world. And the birds. Because that’s what this site’s all about.”
“I was always an oddball for somebody who lived in the city because I really loved nature. I didn’t know any other people like me. When my niece wanted to go to college, she was thinking about a career in nature so we went to the Little Red Schoolhouse and we were just kind of asking for advice. I suggested she start volunteering in the meantime. We found the Palos Restoration project and came out to one of the workdays together. While we were there, somebody pointed out a plant and everybody got excited and ran to see it. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, where have all these people been all my life?’ I was no longer the odd ball. I found my like-minded community and I’ve been coming ever since. And, my niece now works for the Forest Preserves!
“I love being outdoors with like-minded people. I love seeing the results after we clear invasive plants, allowing for all kinds of surprises to come up. Plus, I’m getting a workout. The heavier work like hauling logs is my favorite. Every day my coworkers talk about how miserable the weather is, and I come in and tell them how beautiful the woods were on a cold winter day. They can’t relate to me at all and just can’t wait for summer!”
Inspired by the photo blog Humans of New York, Kris DaPra and Joanna Huyck of the Volunteer Resources team will be working together to introduce you to your fellow volunteers. You’ll get to know the names and faces of the people (like you) without whom the preserves could simply not exist. We hope that you’ll enjoy this ongoing project, and we look forward to interviewing YOU at an upcoming workday, on your monitoring route, during your Trail Watch patrol or anywhere else you make a difference. Thank you for being a volunteer!