On October 9th, 2020, eleven Fusionites went over to Sundown Meadow Forest Preserve to battle an invasive species of trees threatening the native flora. Aerie Crown Forest in which Sundown Meadow is located is part of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, a total of 70,000 acres of land. It is the first forest preserve in the nation committed to protecting and restoring the habitats in their care. After World War II, the Forest Preserves created the Department of Conservation (now the Department of Resource Management), influenced by Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, which outlines the human responsibility to the natural world. The first prairie restoration was implemented at Camp Sagawau in 1965, and in 1996 the Forest Preserves helped found Chicago Wilderness, a coalition dedicated to protecting nature in the region.
The Forest Preserves boast six nature centers with native animals and other exhibits and naturalists on staff. They also host everything from cross-country skiing to horseback riding to mountain biking, with over 350 miles of paved and unpaved trails for year-round enjoyment. Other Forest Preserves amenities include five campgrounds, boating centers, aquatic centers, golf courses, and more. The Forest Preserves of Cook County is a gift to the environment and the community of Chicago.
The maintenance of all this nature and land requires dedicated volunteers managed by their Volunteer Resources team which works with volunteer site stewards leading ecological restoration at more than 90 sites across the Forest Preserves and manages programs involved with nature education, trail safety, and scientific monitoring.
Fusion Cares jumped at the chance to organize a volunteering event with the Forest Preserves. Arriving in the morning, we were greeted by the beatific scene of Ida lake in the distance and bright sunlight filtered through tall leafy trees. It was invigorating to breathe such fresh air and stand in that expansive green space after months of COVID enforced stay-at-home orders. Everyone was decked out in the Fusion Cares volunteer T-shirt and Fusion face masks and ready to break a sweat.
Our guide George, effusive and charismatic, explained all the different plant species that live in Sundown Meadow and why the Buckwheat tree was a particular nuisance. He provided us with saws, clippers, and our mission for the day; cut down and burn as many Buckwheat trees as possible so they do not choke out the native vegetation of Sundown Meadow. Two bonfires were built to burn the Buckwheat trees which we would fell, cut into four feet pieces, de-branch with the clippers and chuck into the fire. It was hard work, but everyone was energized and smiling under their mask. We would take breaks by finding a distant log to sit on and sip water while enjoying a few minutes of maskless freedom.
This wasn’t the first time Fusionites banned together to do our part to help nature. Fusion Cares (prior to the complications with COVID-19) organizes at least 2 park clean-up events a year with great turnout and fantastic results. These outdoor events not only help our environment, but present a wonderful bonding opportunity devoid of the stressors of the office. This year, many of the events Fusion Cares have been virtual but we endeavor to keep organizing the outdoor events by putting safety first.
Once the area was cleared of the invasive trees and the bonfires were put out, a group picture was taken. Although all our muscles ached and we reeked of burnt wood, everyone seemed ecstatic and truly grateful for the experience. We look forward to volunteering with Forest Preserves of Cook County again.