Saturday, October 8th, 10am, marks the start of a major conservation event at the Deer Grove East forest preserve in northwestern Cook County. Friends of Deer Grove East, in collaboration with conservation volunteers and professionals from the Cook County Forest Preserve, Openlands, and the Sierra Club, are planning a day of tours, education, and restoration activity to kick-off a major environmental conservation effort to begin at Deer Grove. Peter Gott, a volunteer with Friends of Deer Grove East, provided this information in a press release:
“This will be an important new community of conservationists,” said Stephen Packard, the original organizer of such projects as the Spring Creek Volunteers, Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards and other forest-preserve-connected groups. “October 8th will be a celebration – and an education. What’s already been done by the heavy equipment is amazing. And what it needs now from caring people is both a challenge, and an inspiration.” The new initiative is being supported by the Sierra Club, Audubon, the Forest Preserve District and others .
For the last two years, the conservation group Openlands has employed environmental contractors to clear brush and restore water in once-drained ponds and wetlands. The work was funded as part of a $25 Million settlement over loss of wetland in the expansion of O’Hare airport. For a portion of those funds, Openlands chose Deer Grove East for their first large-scale woodland restoration. The project also includes large vistas of prairie and wetland. Habitat for birds and other wildlife is a special focus of the project.
“Now this area will need the kind of tender loving long-term habitat restoration that only dedicated volunteers can do,” said Linda Masters, the restoration ecologist who has coordinated the project for Openlands. “While the current project is already historic in its diversity and scope, the most exciting parts are still to come. We expect that community volunteers will play a key role in those.”
The “Kick Off” will feature conservation experts like Douglas Stotz of the Field Museum, an ornithologist, author and explorer, who consults on bird habitat restoration. The morning will begin with a brief speech by Packard, Founding Director of the National Audubon Society’s Chicago Region program. (He is also an influential author and teaches at Northwestern University.)
Deer Grove West was the first forest preserve in Illinois. Over the years the original, mostly forested preserve was expanded by more than two hundred acres at Deer Grove East. These newer acres had originally been a mix of wetlands, prairies, savannas, and oak woodlands. Tallgrass prairie and oak savanna at one time covered more two thirds of Illinois and more than 90% of Cook County. Today less than one one-hundreth of 1% is left in the state or locally. “Deer Grove is an excellent example of restoring the biodiversity that was once here, then taken over by farming and suburbanization, and now is returning thanks to the vision and hard work of many local people and organizations,” said forest preserve volunteer coordinator Bill Koenig.
The Friends of Deer Grove East is having its Kick-Off at the Preserve on October 8 at 10:00 AM. “The event should be educational, and fun,” said Masters. There will be displays, the kick-off speech by Stephen Packard, and a variety of tours and activities to introduce people to the site and to teach how people (of all skills and fitness levels) can help restore these beautiful ecosystems. Experts will be on hand to explain the group’s mission and work.
The volunteer work requires no prior experience. The group is seeking both leaders and volunteers, and training will be provided as needed. Some work is easy, some is physically demanding, and people can select what, if anything, appeals to them. Families are encouraged to come, as children can quickly become masters at gathering rare seeds, and their sharp eyes make great discoveries. Other work includes brush cutting, wildlife monitoring, and many other opportunities.
These collaborative activities illustrate the collaborative nature of conservation work in the northwest suburban region of Chicago, and demonstrate the commitment of citizens and environmental organizations (both private and public) to the conservation and restoration of important open lands and nature habitats.