Volunteers lend hands and hearts to help forest preserves grow and thrive
By Kim Mikus
Daily Herald correspondent
Lake County Forest Preserve volunteer figures for 2018• Total number of volunteers: 1,921
• Number of volunteer hours: 25,910
• Value of donated time: $674,000
Paul Klonowski, an avid canoeist and scientist at Abbott, spends his free time collecting litter -- everything from beverage bottles to the remains of a 1948 Chevy pickup truck -- from the Des Plaines River.
Klonowski coordinates the Des Plaines River stewards volunteer program at the Lake County Forest Preserves. He has spent the past 18 years improving the health of the river. The Gurnee resident leads about 30 other volunteers and says "the desire to have clean waterways," is the driving force behind what they do.
The program is just one of many volunteer efforts coordinated through the forest preserves. Helping with fishing camps, planting native gardens, monitoring wildlife and assisting at the Dunn Museum are just a few of the volunteer efforts performed by single individuals or groups. A total of 1,921 volunteers spent 25,910 hours in forest preserves throughout Lake County in 2018. Playing key roles in operations and public safety, habitat restoration, education and cultural preservation, the hours had a value of $674,000.
Kelly Schultz, stewardship ecologist with the Lake County Forest Preserves, says working with the volunteers is the highlight of her job.
"Volunteers bring a wonderful passion and heart and soul to the work," said Schultz, who oversees projects for the natural resource department, including clearing invasive plants, restoring natural areas and monitoring butterflies and bats.
There are countless ways, indoors and out, to volunteer and the time commitment level is up to the individual. Training is provided for all positions.
"There is always room for more volunteers," said Schultz, who works alongside volunteers who help with the native seed nursery, restoration workdays and wildlife monitoring programs.
To explore volunteer opportunities, an open house is taking place Thursday, March 7, at the Dunn Museum, 1899 E. Winchester Road, Libertyville. Those interested can stop by anytime between 5 and 7:30 p.m. and meet staff and volunteers to find what interests them.
Environmental Educator Mark Hurley says volunteers are important in helping reach far into Lake County with education programs and events that teach about nature. He added that there is a need for additional organized groups to volunteer, including corporations, churches, schools and scouts.
Restoration workdays are popular for volunteer groups. Participants work with a site steward on projects that improve the health of the prairies, wetlands and woodlands.
"This is a nice way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the preserves because volunteers often work off trail," Schultz said.
Kathleen Garness, a botanical artist and teacher, has been a volunteer site steward for 18 years, now mainly working at Grainger Woods in Mettawa. She enjoys coordinating the restoration efforts at this high-quality natural area.
"I like working with people who love nature and have curious minds," Garness said. "When I see the ecosystem responding -- it's amazing."
There are a wide variety of other opportunities to lend a hand. Here are some options:
• Gardeners provide ongoing care for various gardens as seasonal needs demand. Activities include planting, seed collection and weeding.
• Nature educators teach preserve visitors about the environment, science and outdoor skills.
• Youth and public program guides teach nature-themed school field trips and assist with or lead programs and activities for a variety of age groups.
• Canoe and kayak aides assist in skills training and outdoor adventure programs for all ages under the guidance of a certified instructor.
• Dunn Museum volunteers lead tours, work at the front desk and assist with history education programs and activities. Museum volunteers also help research items in the archives and collections. Others assist with special events and the annual Civil War Days event.
• Volunteer photographers capture gorgeous, eye-catching and intriguing photos that help the forest preserves better communicate their mission and inspire others. If you take pictures while visiting a Lake County Forest Preserve, feel free to share them in the Forest Preserve Flickr pool.
• The Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the forest preserves, relies on volunteers who serve on the board of directors and committees. Volunteers also help with fundraising events including Fred Fest and the annual Fall Classic Golf Outing.
When volunteers give their time, energy and support to the Lake County Forest Preserves, it's so that the preserves might not merely exist, but grow and thrive. To explore available volunteer positions, visit LCFPD.org/volunteer or call (847) 968-3324.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.