Conservation Corps Programs

a group of people from the Student Conservation Association doing restoration work

Conservation Corps programs provide paid, hands-on experiences to participants from across Cook County’s diverse communities—including those with barriers to employment.

On this page:

Conservation Corps Overview

Run in partnership with non-profit organizations and the City of Chicago’s Department of Transportation, these programs mobilize over 150 high school youth and adults each year to restore natural areas for the benefit of Cook County’s plants, animals and people.

All corps programs receive financial and/or training support from the Forest Preserves, combined with training, resources, and financial support from program partners—Audubon Great Lakes, Friends of the Forest Preserves, Greencorps Chicago, Housing Authority of Cook County and Student Conservation Association—and the Forest Preserve Foundation. This collaborative approach and funding strategy ensures sustainable programs that serve the Forest Preserves’ critical need to engage the next generation of conservation leaders.

Student Conservation Association logo
Friends of the Forest Preserves logo
Audubon Great Lakes logo
Greencorps Chicago logo

A group from the Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps doing restoration work

High School Programs

High school Conservation Corps programs focus on teamwork, basic job skills, hard work and environmental awareness.

Chicago Conservation Leadership Corps (CCLC)

Partners: Friends of the Forest PreservesStudent Conservation Association

Current high school students (or recent graduates) participate in hands-on conservation service in the Forest Preserves through paid summer employment. Youth work as a team on a variety of projects such as trail building, mulching trees, and invasive plant removal. Youth are supervised by highly trained adult Crew Leaders who have experience working with youth in an outdoor setting. Environmental education and nature based recreational activities are an important component of the experience. We want youth to have one of the best summers of their lives and they do—this program boasts a 95 to 100% retention rate.


  • 15 to 19 years old; enrolled in high school or recently graduated
  • Interest in learning about nature and getting dirty
  • Open to trying new things
  • Ability to perform physically demanding work in hot summer temperatures
  • Willing to work as part of a team

 Program Snapshot

  • 6 week summer program starting in late June/early July
  • 36 hours per week; $8.25/hour
  • Youth learn basic job and conservation skills
  • Transportation to work sites is available from central pick up locations (e.g. CTA stop)

How to Apply

Youth applications are due in April; Adult Crew Leader recruitment starts in March each year. Visit the Friends of the Forest Preserves website for more details.

Forest Preserve Experience Program

Partners: Friends of the Forest PreservesHousing Authority of Cook County

The Forest Preserves is proud to partner with the Housing Authority of Cook County and Friends of the Forest Preserves on the Forest Preserve Experience Program.

This summer program will engage 50 high school youth in a paid summer employment and educational experience for five weeks. Participants come from families who utilize the services of the Housing Authority of Cook County.

Youth work to help their community’s environment through river and lake clean-up activities, tree mulching and invasive plant removal efforts in their local forest preserves.

a group of people from Greencorps posing after a day of work

Adult Programs

Adult Conservation Corps programs focus on the technical skills needed to pursue a career in conservation and related fields. Individual programs may provide green industry certifications.

Habitat Restoration Internship

Partner: Audubon Great Lakes

Audubon’s Habitat Restoration Interns work on Forest Preserves land and assist with the management and restoration of wetlands, prairies, savannas and woodlands with special emphasis on grassland birds and their habitats. This position offers the chance to contribute to the growing network of individuals and organizations in Cook County committed to conservation.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn natural areas management while working as part of a team.


  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Environmental science majors or related fields preferred
  • Ability to perform physically demanding work in all weather

 Program Snapshot

  • Full-time, six month seasonal position
  • $12/hour for interns and $14/hour for field supervisors
  • Personal vehicle required (work sites are not near public transportation)
  • Travel reimbursement provided

 How to Apply

Applications are typically available in March. Visit the Audubon website for more details.

Contact: Daniel Suarez,

Friends’ Conservation Corps

Partner: Friends of the Forest Preserves

Friends of the Forest Preserves manages multiple Conservation Corps Crews throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County. Corps participants are paid for their work to help restore woods, savannas, and prairies. They also gain essential skills like job readiness and financial literacy. And, maybe most importantly, they are the next generation of front line advocates for the forest preserves and nature.


  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Comfortable using tools
  • Ability to perform physically demanding work in all weather
  • Team player

 Program Snapshot

  • 30 hours per week, one year positions
  • Crews work in teams of six
  • Some positions require a personal vehicle to reach work sites, others have a central pick-up location in Chicago
  • Pay: Variable ($12 to $15/hour)

 How to Apply

Varies by program. Visit the Friends of the Forest Preserves website for more details.

Contact: Zach Taylor,

Greencorps Chicago

Partners: Chicago Department of TransportationWRD Environmental

Greencorps Chicago is a City of Chicago green industry job training program, run in partnership with WRD Environmental, for individuals with barriers to employment. The Forest Preserves of Cook County is proud to partner with Greencorps Chicago by providing valuable trainings as well as hands-on experience in restoration, forestry, and natural resource projects.  Participants also work on other diverse green industry activities including landscaping, tree care, and green infrastructure projects with the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, and other public and community partners.


  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • City of Chicago resident
  • Pass initial and random drug screenings
  • Able to meet physical requirements of the work

 Program Snapshot

  • 9 month paid experience
  • 30 hours per week; new participants are paid the current City of Chicago minimum wage
  • Extensive trainings and professional development offerings
  • Work as a team
  • Wrap-around social services provided

How to Apply

Greencorps Chicago’s recruitment process begins in January or early February each year. Successful applicants begin training in March or early April. Visit Greencorps Chicago’s website for more details.