Site steward Libby Hill and apprentice steward Jancy Jerome know they’re helping to look after a unique parcel of land.
At 7.5 acres (tiny in comparison to other Forest Preserve District holdings, many of which are hundreds of acres), Perkins Woods is an outlier, one of the District’s smallest parcels, and the most isolated from other District holdings. It’s also the only preserve named after one of the District’s founders, Dwight Perkins, who once lived nearby. And yet Perkins Woods is a real surviving remnant of Evanston’s Big Woods, a swamp morainic woodland that once stretched west all the way to Harms Woods in Glenview.
“My husband and I moved here as a young couple with a two-month-old because the woods were here,” says Hill. “My husband taught at Northwestern, so we drove around Evanston, and said ‘What’s this woods here?’ It was something natural. I like the natural world, and it had these beautiful big old trees. I wanted my children to grow up in a place that’s at least semi-wild. This was Evanston, of course, but here was this wild place right next to the school they’d be going to. It was irresistible.”
“In 1992 when I first saw garlic mustard there and knew what it was, it was all along Colfax Street,” says Hill. She called then Superintendent of Conservation, Chet Ryndak, to ask what she should do about this invasive plant, which crowds out native species. “He suggested I become the steward,” she says.
Thus on May 3, 1992, was born the Garlic Mustard Pull and Neighborhood Block Party. This Saturday, Hill and Jerome, along with the new Perkins Woods Steering Committee, will host the 21st Annual Pull. “Garlic mustard is definitely down to a manageable level,” says Hill. “We used to get bags and bags of it, and now it’s maybe one bag. We used to do this for two full days, we had so much garlic mustard. Then we got control of garlic mustard, but winter creeper and Scilla have in places replaced where the garlic mustard had been. So now we’re dealing with them.”
Despite challenges, which also include being on constant lookout for trash and illegal dumping and the looming loss of ash trees to the emerald ash borer, Hill and Jerome have helped preserve the rich woodland that initially drew them. “You can walk in the middle of it when the leaves are out, and all of civilization seems to melt away,” says Hill. “It’s got a beautiful spring understory of beautiful flowers and is also a wonderful place for migrating birds.”
Their Garlic Mustard Pull is part educational outreach for the future, too. “The occupants of every house bordering the preserve except for one have all changed since that time,” says Hill. “We have to keep educating the neighbors. I always let them know what’s going on in the woods.”
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