Longtime volunteer steward and district restoration project win Force of Nature Awards
Chicago Wilderness honors Mayslake steward Conrad Fialkowski and Spring Brook restoration project
Longtime Mayslake Forest Preserve volunteer steward Conrad Fialkowski and the DuPage Forest Preserve District's Spring Brook restoration project at Blackwell Forest Preserve each received a Chicago Wilderness' Force of Nature Award on Dec. 8.
Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance focused on strategies to preserve, improve, and expand nature and quality of life, presents the Dr. George B. Rabb Force of Nature Awards every two years to individuals, organizations, partnerships, and projects whose novel approaches, big ideas, extraordinary collaborations, and bold leadership in regional conservation set an inspiring example for others.
"As the designated Mayslake volunteer site steward since 1998, Conrad has worked tirelessly to expand and protect this very unique and special property, leading at least 540 volunteers on over 22,000 hours of restoration work," said Mayslake volunteer Nancy Bingham in her nomination letter. "The number of native plant species represented has increased from about a dozen in 1985 to well over 200 today -- a huge accomplishment born of much research, trial and error, and sweat equity."
The area now boasts great horned owls that raise their young, green herons, pied-billed grebes, prairie crayfish, salamanders, luna moths, and flying squirrels.
"Even now that he is in his 80s, Conrad can be found on the site several times per week -- leading volunteers on regular workdays, cleaning up litter, cutting invasives armed with only loppers and a bow saw, building brush piles, and collecting, sorting, cleaning, and broadcasting seeds. We work year-round and the conditions can be extreme," Bingham said in her letter.
"Conrad takes the time to develop personal relationships with the Mayslake volunteers, getting to know their families, their hobbies, and their life passions," said Cindy Hedges, the Forest Preserve District's stewardship program coordinator. "Through these interactions the volunteers have become a close-knit family group connected not only to the natural world at Mayslake but also to each other."
The Spring Brook wetland and creek restoration project improved habitat and water quality at Blackwell Forest Preserve near Warrenville. It was a continuation of a project completed immediately upstream at St. James Farm in 2015.
Work involved meandering the creek; creating 21 new acres of wetlands and 23 acres of prairie; removing a dam so fish can swim freely; reducing flooding along service roads in the preserve; and moving the West Branch DuPage River Trail out of the floodplain.
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has been connecting people to nature for more than 100 years.
More than 6.2 million people visit its 60-plus forest preserves, 166 miles of trails, six education centers and scores of programs each year.