Calumet Stewardship Initiative

2011 Spring / 2010 Winter

Forest Preserve District Ensures Permanent Protection for CIMBY Restoration Site, the Dolton Avenue Prairie

By Rebecca Blazer, CIMBY

The Calumet Is My Back Yard (CIMBY) environmental service learning project received good news this summer about one of the corporation-owned natural areas where its students have performed ecological restoration for nearly a decade. On June 18, 2010, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPD) closed on the purchase of the 24-acre Dolton Avenue Prairie from its long-time owner, Ashland Chemical Company, thus ensuring protection in perpetuity for the prairie.

Dolton Avenue Prairie is located on the northwest corner of Dolton Ave. and Paxton Ave. in Calumet City, just south of Ashland’s Calumet City facility. Ashland’s choice to keep the area undeveloped helped to protect a remnant of the original – now very rare – pre-settlement wet prairie landscape that was once common in the Calumet region.

In the 1970s, the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) designated the prairie as a high quality natural area, and the FPD’s 1994 Land Acquisition Study identified the site as a high quality area in need of protection. However, the site’s relatively small size and isolation from other natural areas made it a lower priority for the FPD than the acquisition of other INAI sites in the region.

By the 2000s, although the site was not being developed into housing or strip malls, it was falling victim to invasive brush and weeds that were threatening to choke out the native prairie plants. Fortunately in 2002 Ashland began a partnership with CIMBY which began bringing high school students, primarily from the Chicago School for Agricultural Sciences (ChAS), to the site for ecological restoration workdays several times per year. With help from J.F. New & Associates the students regularly removed large amounts of brush, ensuring that Dolton’s prairie plants would receive the sunlight they needed to survive.

Recently, several factors combined to make acquisition of Dolton Ave. Prairie a more compelling prospect for the FPD. According to Dave Kircher, Chief Landscape Architect for the FPD, one important factor was the development of the Cal-Sag Trail which is planned to run under power lines on ComEd land that borders the northern edge of the prairie. This trail will provide a new connection between the prairie and other natural areas, thus overcoming the site’s isolation issues.

Another catalyst for acquisition was a grant from the Illinois Community Clean Energy Foundation that funded 50% of the purchase cost. Kircher noted that the per-acre value of the site was reasonable and that the site’s history of restoration under the previous owner (CIMBY’s restoration work) was an important additional benefit of ownership for the FPD.

Shortly after the acquisition was finalized, staff members from CIMBY and the Field Museum’s Calumet Environmental Education Program (CEEP) – a key partner in the CIMBY Project – met at the prairie with leaders of the FPD’s Resource Management and Volunteer Departments and Greencorps Calumet to conduct a planning walk. The group discussed a new management plan drafted by CEEP staff, continuing the work of CIMBY students, and increased resources that the District might be able to contribute, potentially including prescribed burning and herbiciding of invasive plants.

So far, CIMBY students seem to be enjoying their work at the Dolton Ave. Prairie under its new owner. At the most recent workday – on a cold, November Saturday – students from ChAS experienced their first bonus of working with the Forest Preserve District: for the first time, they were able to have a brushpile fire on which to throw the invasive brush they cut…and thus the opportunity to celebrate their hard work at the end of the day with roasted marshmallows and s’mores.

CIMBY students at Dolton Prairie Workday. (Photo by Rebecca Blazer)

Planning for The Green Summit Beyond 2011

by Joann Podkul, CSI Chair

Under the auspices of Claretian Associates, planning has begun for the 4th Annual 10th Ward Green Summit which will be held in May 2011.   The evolution of the Summit over its short, but exciting, life has been spurred by its intent to make people who live and work in, or visit, the ward aware of its unique green features which have been increasing over the summit's life.

The 10th Ward's Green story is one of dedication, scale, and affordability.  For decades grassroots organizations in the area have dealt with issues of conservation and environmental protection.  Green gardens and green open space complement modestly-sized LEED certified buildings in the ward.  Pending projects would ratchet up its green profile.

Contributing to the Summit's growth potential, Block Clubs, and other organizations in adjacent wards, have begun to express their desire to participate in the summit to learn about practical applications, such as weatherization.

Environmental activities listed in the 3 editions (Winter/Spring, Summer, Fall) of this CSI newsletter occur year round throughout the Calumet Region.

It is time to transcend ward and state lines to capitalize on how green the Calumet Region is every day.

Riverdale Tree Commission Meets with CMAP2040

By Helen Denham

The Riverdale Tree Commission and community members met with Diane Torres, a representative of Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, CMAP 2040, to discuss the vital roles of tree planting in any future plans within the region. The lively discussion and sharing of ideas centered on how the tree commission envisions the region in the year 2040.

Riverdale Arborist Dave Shepard says, "One of the challenges of the Village of Riverdale and surrounding communities is funding for community education on the value of trees and how trees help with flooding in the areas." CMAP 2040 is working to develop a Municipal Code for tree care that will set a standard for the seven counties encompassing the Go to 2040 plan. The seven counties of northeastern Illinois are: Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties. Torres stated that the state and federal legislatures mandate that CMAP2040 conduct a comprehensive regional plan for the seven county areas including: reinvestment in existing communities, natural resources, and expanding and improving parks and open spaces. "These are among the greatest assets in the region" says Torres. Northeastern Illinois has many natural resources and preserves. Populations are expected to increase to 8 million within the area by 2040. Based on research data, currently less than half of the residents have access to parks and open spaces. Increasing parks and open spaces, and preserving natural areas, are vital to the seven county areas to make it sustainable. Riverdale resident Loree Washington, president of ROC (Riverdale Organized for Change), says, "I am delighted that CMAP understands it is imperative to include residents in decisions about our future. Organizations like ROC form to ensure that residents are heard and proactive in the decision making process."

CMAP is the official regional planning organization for the seven counties. The final Go to 2040 plan will be shared with the communities.

The Riverdale Tree Commission met with Diane Torres of CMAP 2040 to discuss the vital role of tree planting in the region. (Photo by Helen Denham)

Village of Riverdale Arborist, Dave Shepard, and Diane Torres, Chicago Metropolitan Agency Planning, CMAP 2040. (Photo)

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