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.
“We tend to think that nature can be left alone and it will be fine, but today that’s just not the case. The ecosystem needs us to care for it. All these natural areas are so fragmented and so vulnerable to invasive species. They require not just one person but a whole community of people to care. That’s the most compelling thing for me. I didn’t necessarily want to be a leader, but I could see there was a need for coordinating the effort of many people. I want to humbly be of service to help others more easily volunteer and to find happiness in it. I’m not really qualified to teach others, but I can be a co-learner. I think of our group here at Somme as a community of people who are learning together and focusing on the needs of the ecosystem.
“Yesterday I was working for hours in Somme Prairie Grove putting cages around the prairie lily to protect them from deer and voles. The reward for all that hard work is that the flowers will bloom and set seed and we’ll be able to harvest the seed pods. We give the seeds to a volunteer who grows them for two or three years into a tiny bulb. We’ll water the bulbs in their soil until they’re a little bit bigger, which takes another year or two. Then we plant them and maybe in another couple of years they’ll bloom. It’s really a labor of love. It’s tedious and humbling and sort of puts you in this place where you aren’t the boss of nature, but rather a servant of nature. We’re not trying to impose ourselves. It’s not like playing God. We simply assist or remove obstacles for natural processes to be restored. It’s hard to describe in words, but you really find a quiet joy in doing something like that.”
“I’m currently a student at Loyola and I’m taking an environmental sustainability course as part of an engaged learning program, which means that half the course is in the classroom and half is volunteering. We were given a big list of possible places to volunteer and I was just drawn to the Forest Preserves because I’ve always liked the woods. I’m a very visual person so even being out here for a few hours clearing an area of an invasive species and seeing the before and after is great motivation.
“This kind of changed the way I looked at volunteering, especially ecology-related volunteering, because I think a lot of people believe that people my age don’t do this kind of work, that it’s for when you’re older and have more free time. But really, it’s easy to get involved just a couple hours a week. At the rate that everything is modernizing and becoming more urban, it’s more important than ever for younger people to make a difference because all of the older volunteers out here now won’t be volunteering in a couple of decades. People should shed any intimidation they feel around coming out here. There are countless sites all across the County with different times and days you can volunteer. Nobody here is going to judge you if you can only come every other week or once a month. Helping out at all is good.”
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!