Let me start off by saying how much I love being outside. It’s fantastic and offers me the motivation to be more conscious of my choices, and being connected to earth is truly a beautiful thing. The lake, the river, the beaches, the parks, and the forest preserves all scattered about the city are what I love about it here, and living in a booming city of almost 3 million people makes it easy to forget that I could immerse myself in those spaces.
While the focus of this blog project is to highlight efforts in lessening waste impact, I also possess a proactive nature and want to talk about my experience in joining efforts with the Friends of the Forest Preserves. I was in search of an activity that I felt was going to be a valuable use of my time for my community, while also serving to my interests.
In January, I made the bold decision to sign up for a Stewardship Day in LaBagh Woods in 6°F weather. Though those I told about it thought I was crazy (and maybe I am), it was probably one of the best decisions I could have made at the time. I’ve stuck with it, and am more than excited to start becoming involved in their education and leadership opportunities and also seeing the noticeable impact of the time and labor donated by all the volunteers, especially as the weather starts to warm.
Earth Day 2018 was the first Earth Day I celebrated with such dedication. Here, I would like to share more on that experience, and what Stewardship Days are about. They are generally geared toward restoration of the forest preserves, and often that involves eradicating invasive species, seeding or planting native shrubs, and this most recent day I attended I had the wonderful opportunity to continue work on a trail staircase. This means that not only do these stewardship days renew the native ecology, they also make the woods more accessible to people who want to appreciate it.
Above is a shot of the staircase before we went to work on it. You can barely see it, right? Maybe a few slats here and there, but it’s otherwise been used and covered with leaves over the two years since it was originally put into place. Below shows some stairs close up after they’ve been repaired.
When the stairs were first built, leaves were used with the idea that they would eventually form a soil between the wooden slats. They did, and now the steps were ready for some maintenance. We cleared the extra leaves, made the steps more visible, graded them, and reinforced them, all using materials from the invasive species we cut down.
And wow, what a feeling of accomplishment after a day like that! I was put in charge of creating the reinforcements for the stairs, which were in the form of spikes that anchored the stair edges into the dirt. The spikes were created using a hatchet to sharpen the ends of felled buckthorn (the invasive species) branches. I had my own station set up, and I got a great workout from using that hatchet over the three hours we put into this.
Because it was Earth Day, the turnout for the stewardship workday was impressive as other organizations sent their own groups to join the Friends of the Forest Preserves efforts. We ended up splitting into two groups: one to take care of cutting down buckthorn, and the other took over the staircase work. The staircase team ended up being almost entirely filled by the Chicago chapter of community group called Gay For Good (check them out here) and we really got so much done in such a short amount of time!
The most satisfying part, though? Sticking a hatchet into a tree trunk.