How to get started

February 7, 2021

Following guidelines from the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the Illinois Dept of Public Health, the Forest Preserve has resumed public volunteer activities. Note that some North Branch sites may continue to be invitation only; this will be indicated on the Calendar.

Stewardship days are limited to 25 people. Registration is required. Participants must observe Covid guidelines, including masks and social distancing.

Interested in a specific workday? Please RSVP or contact the stewards ahead of time (see Contacts at the bottom of each Calendar event).


COVID-19 Guidelines for Stewardship Workdays
All individuals should consider their level of risk for the COVID-19 virus prior to engaging in any volunteer service.

Review the Forest Preserve’s COVID-19 page each day before volunteering for important updates and safety precautions.

DO NOT attempt to volunteer if in the last 14 days you:

  1. Have any of the symptoms related to COVID-19 as identified by the Centers for Disease Control
  2. Have traveled to any foreign country or states with a high incidence of COVID-19 infections

Staff and volunteer leaders will implement protocols to ensure physical distancing, glove and mask usage, and tool sanitizing.

Wear all essential personal protection equipment (PPE) including a face mask.
Always keep a minimum distance of six feet from other volunteers.
Plan accordingly, as many public restrooms are closed.
Bring your own gloves, snack, water bottle, sunscreen, bug spray, and hand sanitizer.


Every one is welcome! No experience is needed. If you want to help take care of the preserves, and want to learn more, you can join in. Experienced volunteers lead the activities.  We usually work around 3 hours, but break in the middle to visit and talk about the restoration work.

If this sounds intriguing, sign up! The Calendar lists many upcoming opportunities, each one with information and who to contact with questions. If you don’t find the answers you’re looking for on this page, be sure to send us a message on the Contact Us page.


We welcome families and young children! Being out in nature is one of the best experiences we can offer our youth.

In order to make it a good experience for all, please contact the leader ahead of time. They can tell you what activities are planned and whether they are appropriate for youngsters of a specific age. The parent or other adult will be responsible for supervising the child during the workday.

Children are required to observe the same Covid-19 recautions as adults.


Activities vary with the different seasons. Fall and winter are prime time for cutting brush. Even on the coldest days, workers keep warm as the cut brush is piled and burned.

In late spring we begin pulling weeds, with garlic mustard being the earliest target. The bonus is enjoying wildflowers that often bloom and delight us around the same time.

In early summer, there are still weeds to be pulled. But that’s also when seed collecting begins, a mellow activity that many enjoy.

Weeds and seeds continue through late summer into autumn. November marks the end of harvest season, when the precious seeds collected over the growing season are combined into mixes that volunteers will sow into cleared areas.


Every workday is supervised by one or more experienced leaders. Many North Branch volunteers have been participating in the work for a number of years — some even for 30 or 40! We welcome questions and love talking about what we do and why we do it.

Our primary concern is making sure the work is carried out safely. Beyond that, we want you to enjoy the experience and come back for more workdays in the future!


Amenities Plan to bring your own drink and snack. We are no longer able provide home-baked treats, though some leaders may have store-bought snacks on hand.

Clothing Long pants, long sleeved shirt/jacket, hat/cap and sturdy shoes/boots are the fashion of the day. They’ll protect you when we’re working in rough areas and handling cut brush. Weather appropriate outerwear is always a good idea; sweatshirts, rainwear and other garments can always be shed if they aren’t needed.

Skin protection Sunscreen and bug spray will add to your comfort both during the workday and when you get home. For those who are sensitive to poison ivy, protective creams for pre-exposure and post-exposure can be purchased. If you don’t know poison ivy, be sure to have someone show it to you.

Brushpiles Burning a pile of cut brush is an effective means of disposal.  Working around burning brushpiles deserves extra attention. Leaders at the workday will discuss safety beforehand. If you are not comfortable working around the brushpile, let one of the leaders know and they will have you work away from the fire. Some things to keep in mind: have a means to secure long hair; wear old clothes that can be replaced, since embers can make holes; avoid synthetic fabrics, choose natural fibers such as cotton or wool instead.


The leaders will have all the equipment that is needed for the workday.

Gloves The leaders will have clean gloves available for use during the workday. They are collected and cleaned after every workday. It’s also fine to bring your own gloves if you prefer.

Brush cutting Hand saws and loppers will distributed to individuals to use during the workday. They are collected and cleaned after every workday.

Seeds and weeds For pulling weeds or collecting seeds, gloves will be provided for those who want them, along with bags to collect the plants or seeds.


If the weather is truly extreme or poses a hazard, we will certainly cancel the workday. In practice that is not a common occurrence. If a workday is cancelled for any reason, that will be noted on the Calendar. The leader will make every effort to contact those who signed up, especially if it’s a last minute change,

In cold weather, physical activity plus a burning brushpile makes being outside very comfortable. Snowy winter days are especially pleasurable. A forecast of windy or very cold conditions may lead the steward to cancel the workday.

While heavy rain is not all that fun, the rain is often light and intermittent. It can even be refreshing to be outside then. Lightning and high winds, on the other hand, are clearly not safe and the event would be cancelled in that case.


Interested in taking on a bigger part in restoration workdays? The Path to Stewardship offered by Volunteer Resources provides free classes and certification in various different roles. For more information, ask us or visit the Forest Preserve volunteer website.

Have a talent you’d like to put to good use? We always need photographers. Help with newsletters; the website, social media is a great way to reach out. Leaders for tours and identification classes helps spread the word about our work. Specialized training equips monitors to gather important scientific information on rare plants, birds, dragonflies, butterflies or frogs.

Or suggest a new role where you see a need. It’s up to you!