How to get started
Workday guidance re COVID-19

Due to the Coronavirus epidemic and concern for public health, the Forest Preserves has cancelled all programs, including all public stewardship activities, until further notice. 

Please check back here for future updates.

Who can volunteer?

Every one is welcome! No experience is needed. If you can cut brush, pull weeds or collect seed, you can participate.

An experienced volunteer leads the activities. Gloves and tools are provided. We usually work around 3 hours, but break in the middle to share snacks and conversation.

If this sounds intriguing, join us. 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 page.

What happens at a workday?

Activities vary with the different seasons:

  • Fall, winter and early spring are prime time for cutting brush. Even on the coldest days, workers keep warm as the cut brush is piled and burned.
  • Late spring begins pulling weeds, with garlic mustard being the earliest one. The bonus is the beautiful wildflowers are blooming and delighting us at the same time.
  • Early summer, there are still weeds to be pulled. But that’s when seed collecting begins, one of the mellow activities that many enjoy.
  • The 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 for distributing in restoration sites.
What if I haven’t done this kind of work before?

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 enjoy explaining 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!

How should I prepare for the workday?

Depending on the site, we may be working in rough areas. For your personal protection, please wear sturdy shoes; long pants, long sleeved shirts; a cap or hat. Waterproof footwear in late winter and spring and when it has been raining will keep you more comfortable.

Weather appropriate outerwear is always a good idea; sweatshirts, rainwear and other garments can always be shed if they aren’t needed.

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, there are protective creams for pre-exposure and post-exposure. If you don’t know poison ivy, be sure to have someone show it to you. The workday leaders normally provide water and snacks, but it’s a good idea to bring your own water as well.

Working around burning brushpiles deserves extra attention. Some reminders:

  • 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.

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.

Can younger children help out at workdays?

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.

Do you cancel workdays when it’s cold? Or rainy?

If the weather is truly extreme or poses a hazard, we will certainly cancel the workday. In practice that is not a common occurrence.

In cold weather, physical activity plus a burning brushpile makes being outside very comfortable. Snowy winter days are especially pleasurable.

If a workday is cancelled for any reason, that will be noted on the Calendar. If it’s a last minute change, the leader will put out a sign onsite for anyone who missed the cancellation.

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.

Should I bring my own gloves or tools?

You may bring your own gloves if you wish, but the leaders supply all the needed equipment for the workday. For brush cutting, that will include gloves, hand saws and loppers, and necessary instructions for the activity. For pulling weeds or collecting seeds, gloves will be provided for those who want them, along with bags to collect the plants or seeds.

What are other ways to volunteer?

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. It’s up to you!