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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - South Bemis Woods, La Grange Park, Illinois, USA

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South Bemis Woods, La Grange Park, Illinois, USA
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Registered: December 2018
City/Town/Province: La Grange Park
Posts: 1
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Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I squinted through the glaring afternoon sun around the barren patch of land and wondered: "was it enough?"
While other seniors took the summer to relax, I was preparing every intricate detail of my Eagle Scout service project. Since this project was going to be such a significant milestone in my Boy Scout career, I wanted it to affect my village, and more specifically, my community's natural environments. In my local forest preserve Bemis Woods, my troop has held camping trips in the summer and held our annual Klondike Derby sledding outings in the winter, so I was enticed to assist the area. I contacted one of the Cook County Forest Preserve volunteer coordinators and we walked through the area while discussing about all the possible service projects that were needed. While I presumed the Forest would be in need of new trails or picnic benches, I was surprised that the real hindrance of the forest preserve's health was the presence of nonnative and invasive species of plants that were strangling the native vegetation.
Not native to Illinois, Phalaris arundinacea, commonly known as reed canary grass, was growing on the outskirts of the forest in a wetland ecosystem, crowding out other native species. Since the invasive grass was on the edge of the ecosystem, it was imperative that it was to be removed before it began to spread deeper into the forest. Unfortunately, the grass had entwined itself with the native shrubs, so in order to remove the reed canary grass we had to remove the native vegetation that was present as well.
With this information, I began to plan the project, from first aid stations to restroom locations. As the volunteers arrived that morning, I greeted them all and thanked them for volunteering their time. We were going to remove a quarter acre patch of the invasive and nonnative Phalaris arundinacea by hand and then dispose of it in another part of the forest to decompose. As I led the group of six adults and six scouts to the site, I explained the disposal process of moving the pile of plants to another part of the forest using plastic yard waste bins. Having the volunteers' comfort in mind, I made sure everyone was doused with bug spray, and had water bottles and work gloves.
As we trudged into the lush forest covered in morning dew, the volunteers looked hesitant and seemed overwhelmed with the amount of work ahead of them. Sensing this, I dove into the work at hand and everyone followed, making sure that we stayed on the path to ensure our presence in the forest was only to improve it. Some picked, pulled, and piled the plants while others collected and moved the heaps across the path to decompose. Sticking with my prepared plan, I marked the infested site with wooden stakes and directed the volunteers on which plants to pull. Despite the incredible determination we all had, I forced all the volunteers to stop and take a break every twenty minutes, acknowledging the looming threat of dehydration and hyperthermia.
Throughout the project I wanted to be more approachable, so I got to know the younger scouts by the conversations we had while we worked. Participating in the project allowed the volunteers to be more aware of their environment and the threat that transporting foreign plants has on the forests that we use to camp in. Within that six-hour period, I personally got to know all of the scouts and adults better, and realized that a significant aspect of being a leader is knowing who you are leading, as well as having others know you.
It was satisfying to be able to physically see our progress as more and more of the forest floor brush was removed; however, I still questioned whether our work was enough. Bemis Woods was enormous and encompassed nearly five hundred acres of forests, meadows, and wetlands, and although the volunteers thought our site was expansive, I was conflicted whether our strenuous work would really benefit the forest. I knew the volunteers' time was important, but I also knew that they were there for the same reason that I was: to help the forest. So, despite our completion of the original project plan, I decided to enlarge the site another thousand square feet.
As we pulled the last patch of Phalaris arundinacea, all of us turned to see the eerie clearing that we made. All of the volunteers seemed relieved, out of breath, but satisfied. I just hoped that our extra thousand square feet made our impact to the forest significant. As I thanked all my volunteers and we began to leave, the Forest's Volunteer Work Coordinator emerged from the path to see our progress, and he was speechless.
He exclaimed that this was the largest area that had ever been removed, and that it was so well done that he did not need to apply herbicide to the site. He seemed more excited than us, indicating to the group that our work was a success.
I was fortunate to have the chance to improve my environment and learn about all the native plants and ecosystems around my neighborhood. The preparation and effort that I exhibited was what made the project a success. Even though my original project plan was adequate, this project reinforced the importance of doing what was needed rather than doing what was enough.
Because of my environmentally-based Eagle Scout service project, other scouts in my troop have begun preparing their own projects to benefit and celebrate the local natural environments around our area, such as building racks for skis and rebuilding trails to minimize soil erosion. I am glad to have sparked a focus on environmental conservation.
In December, four months since the project's completion, I revisited the site. It was interesting to see how quickly the native vegetation had begun to regrow, with some species of grasses already more than a foot tall! However, the most satisfying part of my visit was observing that there was no reed canary grass growing with the other native species. The once sprawling invasive plant that I had seen twisted amongst all the other vegetation four months ago was not present, despite our decision to skip applying herbicide to the area. I was fascinated with how nature could regrow so quickly, and I knew that the work my volunteers did and my preparation would ensure that my troop and community would be able to be active in Bemis Woods in the future.
Date: December 31, 2018 Views: 3452 File size: 17.6kb, 496.0kb : 1850 x 899
Hours Volunteered: 175
Volunteers: 15
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 10 to 55
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 0.1
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