Calumet Stewardship Initiative

2011 Summer

Volunteering is a Rewarding and Exciting Experience

by Dawn Narjes

My volunteering began when my daughter, Samantha (Narjes) Erdelac, would come home from her new job at Shirley Heinze Land Trust (SHLT) telling me what she did that day. Loving the outdoors and gardening, I thought it would be interesting to do what my daughter does at work. Eventually, I decided to contact SHLT’s volunteer coordinator, Jim Erdelac, during the summer of 2008. I explained to him that I would like to go to the workdays, but I always had something going on during the weekends. I decided to offer my help by doing individual projects, such as photo-monitoring and collecting seed at SHLT’s nature preserves during my spare time, which was usually after work and when I could on the weekends.

As I got more involved, I asked Jim for more projects. I eventually got to experience what it was like to be a stewardship manager, like my daughter, by backpack spraying invasive species on SHLT’s nature preserves. When I was able to go to SHLT’s volunteer workdays I was able to learn even more about habitat restoration by running a DR mower to make firebreaks for prescribed burns, and using a brush cutter and chainsaw to clear trees and shrubs on the preserves.

When my daughter became the stewardship manager at Save the Dunes, where she also would hold volunteer workdays, I started to go to her workdays. I now had more opportunities to further learn about habitat restoration by going to both SHLT’s and Save the Dunes’ volunteer workdays.

Volunteering is a rewarding and exciting venture. I have expanded my knowledge and skills by learning about native and invasive species, prescribed burns, invasive species removal, and using power equipment, such as DR mower, brush cutter, and chainsaw. I was so in awe of native plants that I started a native garden, which I now have two of, and plan on another two this year. I was even honored to be named “Volunteer of the Year” for SHLT for the past three years (2008, 2009, and 2010).

The rewards that I receive are seeing the nature preserves that I worked on returning to their natural state. When I started backpack spraying cattails on one of SHLT’s preserves in 2009, I got excited when I returned to do a follow-up spray on the cattails in 2010 and I saw native forbs and grasses come back. I can’t wait to see how the other nature preserves will look this year after my hard work backpack spraying targeted invasive species last year for SHLT.

I have seen deer, countless birds, snakes, and heard frogs while seeing and working on all of the different and amazing nature preserves in Northwest Indiana. It is a benefit to be able to see these nature preserves, and it is very serene when I work on these preserves after work and to enjoy the quietness of nature. It helps me relax after a hard day at work. I enjoy volunteering greatly and I’m always excited to be able to do something that I love.

Volunteers constructing a boardwalk at Shirley Heinze Ambler property. (Photo by Jim Erdelac)

"The rewards that I receive are seeing the nature preserves that I worked on returning to their natural state." (Self-portrait, Dawn Narjes)

Partner Profile: Volunteering with Friends of the Forest Preserves

by Alice Brandon

The ecological restoration of Calumet forest preserve sites is a high priority for Friends of the Forest Preserves (FOTFP). FOTFP is a local non-for-profit whose mission is to work to preserve, protect, and restore the Forest Preserves of Cook County for the benefit of people and nature.

One way we do this is by supporting volunteer efforts to restore Calumet sites. Now more than ever, limited budgets make it important to engage volunteers to help care for the preserves.

FOTFP works closely with other CSI groups to support stewardship volunteers at Kickapoo Prairie, Dan Ryan Woods, and Powderhorn Prairie. Since 2006, FOTFP has hosted monthly stewardship workdays at Powderhorn Prairie, one of the highest quality dune and swale sites left in the Chicago city limits. Over 300 species of plants and animals call this site home, including a pair of Ospreys who nest there every summer.

Volunteer work in the winter is usually done in partnership with high school students from George Washington High School. Work activities concentrate on brush cutting and burning when the weather is cool and a fire is welcome. The group often brings s’more fixings or brats to share and cook over the brush pile fire.

Spring and summer workdays are spent walking the site where the group looks for new invaders or problems. Last year, staff from the Field Museum were the first to find Spotted Knapweed at the site. This plant is highly invasive and is spreading in the Chicago region in sandy sites such as Powderhorn.

Summer volunteers quickly got to work and were able to hand-pull the entire infestation, but the group has to remain vigilant to ensure it doesn’t return. The summer is also a time to enjoy the site’s diversity in wildflowers and appreciate all the hard work already done.

This summer, FOTFP will have a special workday for new volunteers on Saturday, July 21. Please join us to learn more about the site and what you can do to help.

A George Washington High School student hard at work carrying brush to the fire during a workday at Powderhorn Prairie. (Photo by Alice Brandon)

Volunteers Jackie Grom, Victor Cassidy, Larry Unruh, and Greg Gehrig enjoy a spring walk through Golden Alexanders flowers at Powderhorn Prairie. (Photo by Alice Brandon)

Volunteer Dawson Cox pulls garlic mustard during a spring workday at Powderhorn Prairie”. (Photo by Larry Unruh)

A baby Painted Turtle at Indian Ridge marsh. (Photo by Jerry Attere)

Get Outside for Family Fun this Summer

by Joann Podkul, CSI Chair

When soaring prices cut too deeply into family budgets and limit options for fun, take heart. Enclosed is the CSI Newsletter calendar covering events from May through August, 2011.

Between the time when the last of the spring wildflowers fade and the first fall leaves turn, member organizations continue to provide rich outdoor experiences for families. Spend the entire month of May in green open space and community gardens, on hikes or bikes, or in canoes or kayaks. Catch up on the growing green initiatives on Chicago's Southeast Side at events sponsored by the "4th Annual 10th Ward Green Summit," now reaching into neighboring Chicago wards and Northwest Indiana. Kick-off the summer season at Wolf Lake with the Memorial Day Weekend sponsored by AWLI.

Spend Saturday, June 25th, at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's 25th anniversary with the 2nd Annual Leave No Child Inside events. Join the search for the rare "Thismia Americana" on Saturday, August 13th, at the William Powers Conservation Area/Wolf Lake.

These are merely a few of the free offerings provided year-round by CSI partners and volunteers. CSI beckons you…come on out and explore.

Olive Harvey College students, after gathering Garlic Mustard at Beaubien Woods. (Photo by Laura Milkert)

Bowen Environmental Studies Team High School students pulling Garlic Mustard at Hegewisch Marsh. (Photo by Laura Milkert)

Benjamin Cox, Executive Director of Friends of the Forest Preserves at Powderhorn Prairie during Earth Day Celebration. (Photo by Laura Milkert)


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