Calumet Stewardship Initiative

2009 Summer

A Call to Action

By Rebecca Moss, Sand Ridge Nature Center, and Laurel Ross, The Field Museum

President Obama’s call for a national day of service to be held January 19 in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not fall upon deaf ears on the South Side of Chicago. Led by John Kidd of Fishin’Buddies, families came together to answer the President’s call to make the holiday a “dayon” rather than a “dayoff”.

Approximately fifty people of all ages gathered at Sand Ridge Nature Center (SRNC) to learn how to help improve the environment in their community. SRNC is one of six nature centers in the Cook County Forest Preserve District system charged with educating the public about the need for and benefit of preserving our public greenways. While at SRNC everyone enjoyed the indoor exhibits, and even met the 6 foot long resident bull snake up close and personal.

After going on a hike to learn about the different types of habitats found at SRNC, everyone got down to work. Participants were first taught about European Buckthorn, an invasive shrub species that is slowly taking over our forests and excluding native trees that belong there, as well as encroaching on our prairies. They learned that in order for our forests and prairies to continue supporting our local flora and fauna, the buckthorn must be removed; and with that their task was defined.

After a brief training on tool safety, Rebecca Moss, a SRNC naturalist armed the group with loppers and bow saws and headed towards the work area. Despite the extreme cold, everyone worked very hard, and within an hour’s time cleared the work area of all the buckthorn. Just think, if everyone in the community gave one hour on one day, what a difference we could make.  For information on how you can help visit

Calumet Mighty Acorns – Students Protecting Nature

By Rebecca Moss, Sand Ridge Nature Center and Christy Page, The Field Museum

All across the Calumet region, school kids are gearing up to head out in the spring rain to learn about nature and work with invasive species. That’s right, it’s Mighty Acorns time. The Field Museum and the Forest Preserve of Cook County have brought over 2,200 4th – 6th graders out to natural areas in southeast Cook County to participate in stewardship, education, and exploration activities. In northwest Indiana, the Dunes Learning Center is working with Gary schools to get 300 students outside and interacting with their local environment.

Working with students across the Chicago region, the Mighty Acorns partnership strives to help students make a personal connection to nature.  Mighty Acorns is a place-based program, in which teachers and students adopt a local natural area and visit it three times during the year for three consecutive years.  This approach allows students to form a sense of ownership for the land and take responsibility for stewardship activities. On each visit to their site, they spend time exploring, participate in an educational activity, and do perform different restoration tasks depending upon the season. In the fall they collect seed from native plants, in the winter they cut brush, and in the spring they pull garlic mustard. The result is that Mighty Acorns students understand invasive species control and how to take care of their local natural areas. The difference that they make is incredible, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

For many Mighty Acorns students, participating in this program introduces them to nature for the first time.  Whether hiking through woodlands, exploring prairie landscapes, or looking under boardwalks for wetland critters, Mighty Acorns students are getting to know the habitats around their homes – and having fun at the same time

If you would like further information about becoming involved with the program as a partner, teacher, or volunteer please visit

Calumet Stewardship Initiative & the Burnham Centennial

By Joann Podkul, Calumet Stewardship Initiative Chair

At the end of the day, we all probably have a bit of "unfinished business" we put off until some more convenient time in the future.  Typically, it takes the form of dealing with clutter in the house, or of mind or soul – manageable tasks if we can only get to them.  Imagine if that something were the quality of life of residents in an entire four state area, clustered around the gem of our natural inheritance, Lake Michigan?  Such is the Burnham Plan, currently celebrating its Centennial Year.

The basics of the plan touch everyday life: public access to the Lake Front, transportation systems – rail, highways, and parkways--a city whose economic engine would be tempered by beauty, inspiring civic pride.  Parkland and forest preserves would provide an adequate respite for the population's recreational needs.  Schools and libraries would do the same for intellectual needs. (Considering both the body and mind focus of the plan, is it any wonder that the first library on the East Side was located in the Calumet Park Field House, itself a stunning example of Beaux Arts design?)

Both the Burnham Plan and the Calumet Stewardship Initiative envision vibrant communities.  Both are works in progress.  This year, along with organizations throughout the four-state region, CSI members will participate in the Burnham Plan Centennial celebration and highlight its "unfinished business" in a variety of ways.  "South Chicago - Steel to Green," a tour developed together with Claretian Associates, will take visitors to sites that tell the industrial and cultural history of the area, as well as to those sites which feature the green elements that might make the community the first with LEEDTM certification in the Midwest. Member organizations will paddle the lake front, provide exhibits and presentations of both hypothetical and real plans for the area at local libraries and meeting sites, and engage students in the region in speculation on what the next 50 years will hold for its development.  Chicago Public Schools will reinforce the process through specially prepared curricula for various grade levels.

The current economic climate, which simultaneously urges caution in action, and boldness in thought, presents us with an ideal opportunity to address our collective "unfinished business."  Please join us for the various Burnham Centennial events listed in our calendar and become part of this exciting conversation.

For additional archived videos of stewardship and conservation activities in the region check out Calumet resident, and past CSI secretary, Kevin Murphy's Calumet Stewardship YouTube account.

Photos and Videos