Sabrina Feliciano (Junior)
I grew up in Florida with woods behind my grandma’s house. When a tornado hit in 2002, it completely wiped it out. Those were the woods I grew up in and shared memories with my family that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I never fully appreciated it until it was gone. Volunteering at Miami Woods in Morton Grove with my brother’s environmental club at Truman College allowed me to feel like I was a child again, enjoying those same memories.
I met three stewards named Jerry Fuller, Kent Fuller, and Duke Riggin, all part of the North Branch Restoration Project. They started in 1976 and are still volunteering their time ever since. The amount of change and improvement they have made in the forest preserve is incredible, including their hard work to save endangered plant species. After 39 years of working so hard, facing challenge after challenge and many obstacles, they still continue to work hard today. I learned many things when it came to environmental care. It was astonishing how many people still do not know important things that are vital to living on this earth.
“When I studied Forest Management I was not expecting to be riding the train downtown every day.”
Kent Fuller had a natural born interest in environmental care. He majored in Forest Management and wound up working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago.
On a daily jog, he ran on the track that cut through Miami Woods. He noticed other workers in the woods and wondered what they were up to. From then on, he and his wife Jerry Fuller had been part of the North Branch Restoration Project.
A few years into volunteering, a political disaster struck. The Edgebrook community thought the group was ruining their forest preserves using poisonous herbicides and that the group was supporting the control of deer. This caused the Edgebrook community to join up with the animal rights people. The North Branch group contained people who only cared about the environment and had not thought about the political standpoint of the situation. This resulted in them being shut down for 5 years.
In the last 34 years they have been working hard to make up for the years they lost. As stewards, they volunteered their personal time into this project. This consisted of careful planning and getting those plans approved by the Forest Preserve. The volunteers consisted of corporate groups and school groups. They have received over $15,000 worth of volunteer work in the last 34 years.
These volunteers mainly helped with the removal of Buckthorn, a Eurasian plant that grows low and prevents lighting from reaching the ground for other plants beneath it. It also lets off a chemical that kills other plants surrounding it. No other animals besides birds eat the berries. They then carry the seeds with them, dropping them along the entire woods causing more production of it.
This as well as an overpopulation in deer caused some species of plants to become extinct in those areas. To help with this, the group of volunteers remove buckthorn and have planted the species that have been extinct in fenced-in areas so deer may not eat it.
Duke Riggin had been with the group since 1982. He helped with the removal of Buckthorn and preservation of species. When I volunteered with the group, he and Jerry took a few of us to pick seeds while Kent took another group to collect and burn Buckthorn.
Duke and Jerry start picking seeds in the end May and stop a week before Thanksgiving. During these few months they pick around 200 species. In the earlier days they used to pick all their seeds in other locations and planted them in their own woods. Now they only pick seeds from their own land. They do not take seeds from more than 10 miles away from their sight. If the seed is rare, they will take it from 40 miles or less. They do not buy seeds from contractors.
Overall, my experience with this group of people is one I plan on continuing. Nowadays not many people my age, 15-18, really care about any of these things. But such things have a very large impact on our environments. Not only do you earn volunteer hours for school, but you also get to enjoy an amazing experience with kind and dedicated people who would love to educate you on the importance of keeping an environment in good condition.