3 Ways to Give Back to the Environment in Chicago | Midwest Living
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3 Ways to Give Back to the Environment in Chicago

What helps the planet, gets you outdoors and makes you feel good all over? That’s easy: green volunteering.

Grab your grubbiest grubbies. We asked volunteer leaders for three Chicago-area groups how you can celebrate Earth Day—or any day—by doing good deeds in the natural world.

Save A Forest

The Field Museum’s biodiversity focus goes far beyond the exhibits at its famed location on South Lake Shore Drive. Along with world-wide conservation projects, the Field focuses on the Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve on the city’s south side. Staff and volunteers gather the first Saturday of every month to restore the prairie and savanna that thrived here before European agricultural methods and plants crowded out native species that birds and animals rely on.

Volunteers’ biggest job is cutting and burning honeysuckle, buckthorn and other invasive plants so wildflowers and other native species can thrive again. “By allowing the sunlight to penetrate, you get a healthier mix from the ground level up through the trees,” says Mark Bouman, Ph.D., a program director with the museum.

In addition to lending time and muscle, you’ll leave with a powerful tool: knowledge.

“We rely on our volunteers to carry 
a message about the importance of biodiversity throughout the region,” Mark says (fieldmuseum.org).

Clean Up a Beach, Perk Up a Park

Starting in March, volunteers revitalize ecosystems at more than 20 sites as part of Stewardship Days, a collaboration between the Chicago Park District and The Nature Conservancy.

Picking up trash is just the beginning, says program manager Forrest Cortes. You and your family members of all ages might also help build a new hiking trail, collect seeds from native plants or remove invasive species at a wetland, woodland, savanna, prairie or dune. “Workdays are easy to jump into,” he says. “You don’t have to be an expert to get involved” (chicagoparkdistrict.com).

Stewardship Days volunteers plant native grass to halt erosion along Lake Michigan; photo by Yan Chen.

Track Butterflies

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that speaks loudest. That’s why the citizen scientists of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum’s Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network agree to walk different predetermined routes six times over several months and report butterfly sightings.

“Butterflies tell us a lot about how we’re taking care of our nature preserves,” says chief curator Doug Taron, Ph.D., noting that rarer species drop off when a woodland or prairie isn’t intact (naturemuseum.org).

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