Our primary purpose is to work with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and other agencies to protect and restore our Illinois natural heritage. We are advocates for these cherished lands, speaking for their preservation, and educating our fellow citizens about their value through tours and presentations.
Beginning in Lake County, the North Branch of the Chicago river flows south through suburbs, much of it bordered by forest preserves. It eventually joins the South Branch around Lake Street and Wacker Drive where both branches turn east toward Lake Michigan.
The 20 or so management areas lie mostly along the river from LaBagh Woods on the north side of Chicago to Somme Preserves in Northbrook, except for the Air Station Prairie which is within the watershed.
We have been helping the Forest Preserve District of Cook County manage sites along the North Branch of the Chicago Region since the late 1970’s. We gather weekly at scheduled sites to cut brush, weed, burn, seed gather and sow. We collect important information about the plants and animals, monitoring changes in sites as restoration proceeds and adding to the knowledge of local ecosystems.
The restoration work varies by the season. Winter is a great time to be out in the preserves, cutting brush and warming up by the burning brush piles. People have even been known to toast marshmallows. Spring is the season for hand pulling weeds, made more enjoyable by early wildflower displays. Summer and fall is prime seed-picking time, a mellow task that many people find rewarding. Workdays often include short tours and lively discussions as well as the work.
This is a new way to interact with nature—helping to restore health and vigor to damaged nature areas through hands-on stewardship. Today, many groups in the Chicago area and the rest of our country are involved in ecological restoration of native habitats. Among these groups, North Branch Restoration Project has been called a model for citizen involvement.
People have always been part of the natural world. Original inhabitants of the land certainly changed it as they hunted, grew food and established settlements. The major difference between then and now is numbers. In our densely populated urban areas, we have altered the landscape in significant ways. Our streets and buildings have fragmented the once continuous landscape. We've imported plants and animals from other parts of the world that compete with native species. Restoration returns the conditions that shaped the landscape to the extent possible, allowing the natural areas to recover.