Community members of all ages set out to roll up their sleeves the morning of Sept. 16.
Dick Thomas, like dozens of volunteers, rose for the task of lending a helping hand during a Community Work Day put on by the Forest Preserve District of Will County and ShareFest.
The group met at Hickory Creek Preserve—Hickory Creek Junction on Old Plank Road Trail to take part in an event aimed at supporting ongoing maintenance efforts on site. Volunteers were provided a safety talk and they went on to do their part in one of the assigned roles.
“The huge thing is the weekend work days where you can come out and really start helping restore areas back to their native habitats,” said Jason Buss, natural resource management crew leader/volunteer liaison for Forest Preserve District of Will County.
Volunteers handled the chain saws and hauled material over to the controlled fire.
“Today, I’m herbiciding,” Thomas said. “They cut, and then if you don’t spray it with a poison, herbicide, it’ll re-sprout and grow again.”
Thomas said he considers himself to be a “big advocate” for the environment and felt compelled to set aside time to put in what he called “sweat equity.”
“We’re glad to see that there are people that appreciate [our work,]” he said. “We see bicyclists riding and skateboarders and all kinds of things like that are enjoying [the trails and the nature preserve,] but we appreciate that there are people willing [to put in hard work.]”
The Forest Preserve District holds Community Work Days all throughout the year.
“We had little bit of a cold spell in August,” Buss said. “Today, it’s going to be up to 80 [degrees,] so we’re trying to get stuff burned up right away in the morning.”
Burning on site is meant to keep the nature preserve cleaner.
“A lot of that carbon and nutrients from the trees once we burn it, it gets back into the soil,” Buss said. “It’s like a big cycle.”
Buss said it is nice to see the native grasses come in and went on to say the unfortunate thing is that honeysuckle, which is an invasive brush species, tends to sprout in the area.
“[It’s a] nasty evader,” Buss said. “Nothing grows under honeysuckle, except for more honeysuckle. It’s one of those that once it gets into an area, it is an invasive species.”
Every year, honeysuckle greens up first and stays green longer. They suck up the sunlight and nutrients preventing other types of vegetation from growing.
“Hickory Creek Junction has gotten a lot [of maintenance] over the last, I’d say, five years,” Buss said. “It’s been a continuous battle. Invasive species is a never-ending.”
The Hickory Creek system occupies 1,541 acres of land. Currently, the site is in the midst of the initial cut, or the first stage. Getting seed is the second phase and once the grasses to start to grow in the area, burning can begin.
“It’s just a multi-prong, multifaceted approach to restoration,” he said. “It’s never-ending work. We’re probably halfway through this restoration. We got a burn last year, and that really helped a lot with some of our native species. Our cream gentian—which is a nice, late bloomer that just blew up this year with how much cream gentian—really responded to the fire.”
Typically, the Community Work Days bring in 20 to 25 volunteers.
Buss said the Forest Preserve District is very lucky to have site stewards and volunteers to help manage the land.
“Hickory Creek is special, and the managers like it, and I like it because it’s centralized,” Buss said. “All the Lincoln-way high schools—if they aren’t doing anything—they’re out. We have a bunch of those students. We have a bunch of Providence Catholic [High School] students doing work out today. There’s a couple Lewis [University] students finishing up. So, Hickory Creek is really centralized, and we can utilize a lot of those walk-ins.”
For more information on upcoming Community Work Days, visit www.reconnectwithnature.org.