Volunteer for Restoration

Friends is working with restoration volunteers at McClaughrey Springs Woods as part of an Illinois Clean Energy Community Stewardship grant.

We invite you to join in at an upcoming restoration day. Beginners are welcome and proper precautions will be taken for COVID-19. Be sure to sign up in advance here, it’s required. Upcoming workdays are October 4, November 1, and December 6.

Get to know how Diana, site steward of McClaughrey Springs Woods, got her start in volunteering and her thoughts on restoration here:


Diana Krug holds an osprey.

Q: How did you get started in the world of restoration?

I purposely live nearby the forest preserves and have an interest in plants in general. I began by focusing on learning native plants, and eventually I found the Palos Restoration Project folks at the Little Red Schoolhouse Annual Craft Fair. Roger & Cara Keller, Joe Neumann, and Robert Arentz were there for outreach, recruiting folks. I immediately wanted to help, with only the lack of transport getting in the way, briefly. I jumped in with both feet and began contributing, joining the volunteer group, nearly every weekend.

Q: Where/how did you develop your knowledge as a steward and/or volunteer?

I studied native plant identification books and native plant nursery catalogs, starting with the easy versions that have smaller numbers of plants and pretty photos or drawings, migrating to more technical books later. I also read literature as inspiration such as Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold; Reading the Landscape by May Watts; and Where the Sky Began by John Madson. I planted native species in my garden (observing the plants at different stages up close), and I began reading about habitat, local geology, soil, and land use, also wetlands, and wildlife associated with plants. By joining the WildOnes garden group and the Illinois Native Plant Society NE chapter I began participating in field trips and was able to learn from more knowledgeable folks. I became a frog monitor and beespotter, and I joined Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Midwest and the Illinois Native Plant Society (INPS). I also tapped great online resource sites like Xerces Society and Illinois Wildflowers.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) Mathew Bieszczat Volunteer Resource Center, Sagawau Environmental Learning Center and other FPCC Nature Centers offer lots of great training courses which I attended, including Prescribed Fire crew training and certification. Courses were also offered by these wonderful institutes: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (butterfly & dragonfly monitoring), Morton Arboretum, The Field Museum, Conservation Research Institute, Chicago Wilderness Wild Things, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of the Chicago River, and Wisconsin Wetlands. I am always on the lookout for grass, sedge and fern workshops offered at the annual conferences for INPS and WildThings.

Q: How did McClaughrey Springs Woods become a focus site of stewardship for you?

McClaughrey Springs is a delicate site and needs protection. There are interesting plants and topography and lots to help with at the site. I find it reminiscent of Wisconsin, Michigan, the Lake Shore, and southern Illinois and it is such a lovely place to hike the multipurpose trails and enjoy nature.

I’d been enjoying the preserves, state and national parks, for years before I learned about Palos Restoration and I was so happy to learn that I could give back and make a difference. Now I love seeing the recovery of health following the restoration work contributed by so many wonderful volunteers including preserve Resource Management (RM) crews, ecological contractors and Conservation Corps Crews as well as partners like Friends of the Chicago River, Friends of the Forest Preserves, the Shedd Aquarium and Curie High School student groups, they and other students have been joining us with their instructors for Chicago River Day and other dedicated restoration efforts since 2005.

It is crucial that folks enjoy the site sustainably and help protect the habitat. The easiest way is simply by staying on the official multipurpose trail and leaving nature –plants, animals, and natural objects – where they are. Carrying refuse out of the site and properly recycling is also essential.

Q: How long have you been a steward? How long have you volunteered in the forest preserves overall?

I have been a steward since approximately 2005; volunteering since about 2003.

Q: What’s your favorite restoration activity?

I enjoy just about everything and obtained certifications for power tool use and prescribed fire crew member participation. I chainsaw, brushcut, remove and control invasive brush, trees, and weeds (like honeysuckle, barberry, buckthorn, calery pear, burdock and teasel). I can recognize native and invasive species. I also enjoy collecting and dispersing seed.

Q: What’s been a struggle in the restoration process?

It’s wonderful to see new folks coming out, and I’m confident that most new visitors want to be respectful of nature. And it’s fantastic to see so much of the landscape under restoration. Visitors should be actively guided to enjoy the preserves in a sustainable way, especially when habitat is healing via restoration, and vulnerable due to greater access with invasive hedges no longer obstructing trail and road edges.

Diana Krug and Nina Hike at a past Chicago River Day.

All new visitors would be helped by better guidance and wayfinding in key locations. Interpretive signage at trail heads and access points which clearly states the rules and explain how crucial the habitat is to the ecosystem. And also asks folks to help protect habitat by staying on the trails, keeping sites clean, and respecting this natural home and refuge for our native plants and animals.

There are also some visitors damaging the site, largely unknowingly, by walking or riding off planned official trails, this expands and creates unsustainable trails that degrade habitat. Folks usually think they are the only one and they’re not contributing to a serious problem.

Worse, there are some folks intentionally dumping or vandalizing the preserves, and still others who remove plants, animals even rocks. Our forest preserves are finite resources and absolutely irreplaceable. The desire for human development is seemingly unending, so it is critical to protect our natural areas. People must consider that forest preserves have rare, fragile habitats that support our remaining native plants and animals. We enter their home when we visit the forest preserves.

Restoration is essential work, but we also need visitors to help by understanding that staying on the trails is crucial. Sustainability needs to be considered with every project, and beforehand for potential problems.

Other concerns include unsustainable development and invasive species introduction surrounding the preserves. The effects of salt, pollution, temperature alteration, and erosion from flooding and increased impervious surfaces within the Mill Creek watershed.

Q: What’s your favorite plant or seed?

Grass and sedge seeds are a favorite due to the importance of these species in the fuel matrix and for water percolation into the soil. Liatris and Asclepias– with their windblown or podded seeds, so many species. Desmodiums are fun; they look like beans and stick to your clothes in a soft way. Each species has its own slightly different shaped tiny bean pod. And I have a special fondness for the few species of spring species with seeds that attract and feed ants. The ants, an important denizen of these ecosystems, seek out the food source attached to the seed and in the process of obtaining and storing these seeds they plant them. The ant seed dispersal method is referred to as myrmecochory.

Q: What is the biggest surprise in your work at the site?

The amazing resilience specific to several sites, but not all; with restoration the native plants are coming back so wonderfully. It’s always fun to encounter a species I haven’t observed before. After experiencing a site for a long time, you notice how the site responds to varied conditions each year such as the amount of precipitation which has greatly increased plant recovery compared when I first began volunteering at the end of a sustained drought period. I am delighted at the number of dedicated volunteers and staff that have persevered in our endeavor to help the preserves.

The intimate observations afforded by chance while working regularly to restore the habitat are amazing, seeing the different plants emerging, blooming, and going to seed. It’s beautiful to watch the seasonal wildlife activities, the migrating birds, the feeding and nesting – all without putting pressure on the wildlife. While removing garlic mustard we observed ichneumon wasps floating languorously toward a standing dead tree (important habitat too), we watched her oviposit eggs into a hole in the wood, where she knew insect larva would feed her offspring. Other neat sights: watching the sandhill cranes or turkey vultures spiral on the thermal winds high above and hearing owls hooting and frogs calling. Also, it is so much fun to learn the names of the beautiful creatures that we see while working.

Through our work, I am gladdened by the restoration of dappled light and native growing plants on the ground layer, with pollinators, dragonflies and butterflies flitting about especially where there was bare ground under years of shade and invasive species before. The return of the plants helps to halt erosion and feeds the soil and birds, and creates homes for the insects.

Unfortunate observations: Some caused primarily by weather and erosion wearing away the creek sides each year and some by human folly such as the sheering shore at the grove after prairie plants were mowed.  But much of it by unsuspecting visitors, not realizing the severity of their actions, perhaps only a handful of people continually walking on deer paths, or creating their own unsustainable paths, particularly problematic in the spring with rain and snow melt. These become down cut, the water washes away the loose morainal soil that covers this landscape - creating scars, and the next unsustainable footpath beside it, which will go the same way.

This is tremendous landscape so it is especially disheartening to have the foresight to see the destruction of the beautiful topography of the sloping moraine and creekside, but yet have very little influence or resources to stop it from happening.

Q: What advice do you offer others about restoration work?

Remember the big picture; learn about the habitat and be open to learning from others. Each site is unique.

Q: Why should someone volunteer for the first time?

We are so very fortunate to have these magnificent, intrinsically important natural areas nearby and available to everyone. Volunteering helps support, protect, sustain and restore these beautiful natural areas and is a great way to spend time in nature while giving back to it. You meet other like-minded folks in the process.

Everyone can help by advocating for nature, or extending natural habitat into their own yards, balconies, and villages. Each village needs a green sustainability team, and not all of them have moved in this direction.