While many Chicagoans stayed indoors on Saturday, December 10, a group of CPS students bundled up in warm layers and rolled up their sleeves to restore a natural habitat. Iyanna Hayden, a participating student from Whitney Young High School said, “This is important to me because there are a lot of things that aren’t the way they should be as far as how we treat our environment. I’m here to make a difference.”
Students were part of a Calumet Is My Back Yard (CIMBY) Senior Service Day at Dan Ryan Woods. CIMBY is a service learning program of the Chicago Public School’s Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement which helps students reconnect with nature and learn about the local environment. Students engage in outdoor science learning activities and stewardship to benefit the Calumet region. “CIMBY’s program offers interactive activities that allow our students to learn in a unique outdoor setting about their natural environment,” explains Lauren Woods, CPS Service Learning Coordinator.
Students worked alongside Benjamin Cox and Larry Unruh, Forest Preserve District site stewards, to remove invasive plants including buckthorn and honeysuckle. Introduced from overseas and able to grow in low quality soil, these invasive plants don’t give native plants and trees an opportunity to grow, negatively impacting the health of the local ecosystem. After two hours of stewardship work, the students were guided on a nature hike with Field Museum staff. Students learned about a variety of native plant and animal species and the importance of preserving species like the White Oak tree, a keystone species of Illinois.
The conservation efforts undertaken by CIMBY promote native trees and wildflowers to grow in places like Dan Ryan Woods, one of the very few preserves left in the city of Chicago. “Cook County has 69,000 acres of forest preserve, but only about 3,000 of them are in the city of Chicago—and this is one of them,” explained Benjamin Cox.
Dan Ryan Woods is home to dense forests, old oak woodlands and colorful ephemeral wildflowers. Much of the stunning natural preserve sits on an elevation, once an island of the ancient Lake Chicago over 10,000 years ago. Volunteer groups have been working to restore this beautiful landscape for over 10 years. As they work on projects like these, we hope the preserves will continue to see an increase in bird species and native animal habitats. For more information about volunteering with the Forest Preserves of Cook County please visit: http://fpdcc.com/volunteer/.
—Maryam Salem, Stewardship Coordinator for Calumet Is My Back Yard
Editor’s note. Learn a lot more about Calumet, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and getting students outdoors at Wild Things 2017.