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.
“About four or five years ago, I was in a high school environmental science class and there was a requirement to volunteer three hours, so I came out one day just to get the requirement done and found that I liked it. It’s similar to the work I was doing with the Student Conservation Association prior to this. One day led to another and I’ve been volunteering now for a few years.
“The first day I was pretty nervous about coming out here to Kloempken [Prairie]. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know what to expect but right away, everyone was really friendly and quick to explain to me what we needed to get done. Everyone here always remembers me even though I only come by about once every six months since I’m away at school.
“When I get out here, at first it’s a little rough because I usually don’t stretch but once you get into the rhythm of it, it feels great. You come here and it’s this patch of disorganization and by the end of the day, everything is clean and you know where everything is. And when you leave you feel like you’ve actually done something positive for your community. Every time I leave it’s this excellent sense of satisfaction that I’ve done something I like and it’s helped the environment. So there’s that double benefit.”
“I got involved with a high school program with the Student Conservation Association when I was a sophomore in high school. I learned about it through my older sister who had done the program before. After that, I just continued to come back, typically over the summers and eventually managed to work with an adult crew with the Friends of the Forest Preserves. Also, last year I was part of the Student Conservation all women’s crew. It was self-identified women from all over the Chicagoland area from all types of backgrounds and income levels working alongside Chicago Park District. Our crew leaders and managers were all women. Everybody had a different story so it was really nice to work alongside them. It was a six month program and we focused mainly on the Calumet region.
“I really love doing restoration work. Working for the Chicago Park District I was in an urban area where you don’t get the isolation from the city as I do in the Forest Preserves. And actually, my third year of being with SCA I was an Assistant Crew Leader and I assisted here at Ted Stone [Forest] so it’s nice to come back to the areas where I did work before and see, for example, these trenches that my crew built and they’re still standing. The trenches keep the water from causing erosion and it’s a safe pathway for people who want to come out and take advantage of the Preserves.
“Today I brought my little brother who is 12, my niece who is 15 and my 13 year old nephew. My hope is that my niece gets accepted into the Student Conservation program. I think it’s cool that they get to do work that I would do. It gets them away from their cell phones and stuff.
“For some reason a lot of people don’t know that we have these areas so close to us and they don’t come out and enjoy it, so I am thankful that my sister learned about it. My message to people is ‘Live a little’. When you get stuck in the city, you don’t have to time to think to yourself. When you come out here, you remove yourself from all of that. You retreat and you have time to think. And we’re so lucky that we have such a large green space that other states or counties don’t have. Come out here and experience something different. Don’t be scared of something different.”
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 all throughout 2019. 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!