fbpx

Reconnecting People to Nature in the Calumet Region

The Calumet region, located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, is home to some of the most majestic yet underrated natural areas in the greater Chicago region. Located in an area known for its history of heavy industry, Calumet is home to ecological treasures teeming with rich biodiversity including several forest preserve sites, Lake Calumet, and the Lake Michigan shoreline. However, many communities are unaware that opportunities for paddling, biking, and hiking are available in their own backyard.

Openlands has taken an active role in connecting communities of the Calumet Region with the beautiful woods and wetlands available for recreation. This summer, Openlands commenced its first-ever African American Heritage Water Trail Paddling and Interpretation Training internship program, which taught local youth to interpret and confidently paddle along the African American Heritage Water Trail.

The African American Heritage Water Trail was created to better connect people to the Little Calumet River and raise awareness of the significant history that the region contains. The Little Calumet River flows through several south-side Chicago neighborhoods and 180 years of African American history, including sites like Ton Farm, which served as a stop for freedom seekers navigating the Underground Railroad. After launching in 2020, the trail received substantial press attention, including a feature in the New York Times’ ’52 Places For A Changed World’ list.

According to Laura Barghusen, Openlands’ Blueways Director and one of the organizers of the internship program, the internship was born out of a need to meet the increased demand for interest from the public to get out on the water and tour the African American Heritage Water Trail. The internship was created to train local youth to interpret the trail, which has the dual benefit of employing youth in the area to learn valuable job skills while also attracting positive attention and investment to the area.

Openlands partnered with Friends of the Forest Preserves and St Sabina to add paddling and interpretation modules to a preexisting internship, which employed local youth to undertake paid restoration work at the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Beaubien Woods. Led by Laura Barghusen, Openlands’ Education and Community Outreach Coordinator Lillian Holden, and St. Sabina’s Erica Nanton, once per week youth were trained to paddle down the Little Calumet River, followed by lessons on the history of the region, environmental justice, and public speaking to master trail interpretation while assisting with paddling events.

Trail interpretation, or storytelling, is a critical part of the African American Heritage Trail experience. According to Laura, “You can have as many paddling events as you want, but if you don’t have interpretation, or people explaining what events happened along the trail and why they were significant, then you can’t convey the real significance of the region.”

According to Lillian, interns found the training in interpretation and public speaking to be highly valuable and their largest areas of growth. While many of the interns were shy towards public speaking and reserved at the beginning of the program, by the end Lillian witnessed the youth embracing risk-taking and healthy forms of anxiety through their public speaking.  

The first class of interns commenced the program on July 23rd by leading a public paddling event at the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Beaubien Woods Boat Launch. Interns used their new skillset to educate attendees by sharing the local history of the environmental justice movement and its beginnings in Altgeld Gardens through the work of Hazel Johnson, founder of People for Community Recovery, the history of the Robbins Airport, and its role in producing Tuskegee Airmen, and the Underground Railroad and how freedom seekers traveled along the Little Calumet to navigate their way to freedom in Canada.

Along with working to make the Little Calumet River a paddling destination for the public, Openlands has taken an active role in advocating to make Lake Calumet publicly accessible through the development of a new Lake Calumet and Port District Master Plan. While most of the lake has been fenced off and inaccessible for recreation for the last few decades, prior to the introduction of heavy industry on the Southeast side, Lake Calumet was once a thriving community getaway where locals would fish, hike, and hunt. The Port District took over the area in the 1960s and eventually installed razor wire-topped fencing around the entire, still substantially vacant lakeshore lands, which ended public access to the area. Currently, the Port District holds 2200 acres at Lake Calumet, with only a golf course open for the public, which is too expensive for local communities to use.

The Lake Calumet and Port District Master Plan, recently approved by the Port District Board, is the third plan since the 2001 and 2005 plans, prepared by the city of Chicago, which balanced job creation, public access, and habitat preservation and restoration. Openlands is excited to support the new Port District plan that opens recreation back up for local neighborhoods while remediating the site of dangerous industrial waste and protecting habitat for threatened and endangered bird species, which use the area as a critical migratory flyway. Birders have documented over 100 species in the Lake Calumet area, and at a time when habitat destruction is a leading cause of species endangerment worldwide, the protection of our local natural areas is more critical than ever.

Openlands has been a long-time member of the Lake Calumet Vision Committee, which was founded after the publication of the City’s 2001 Calumet Land Use Plan to advocate for the implementation of recommendations made in the plan. The 2022 Port District Master Plan finally ratifies most of the public access and habitat recommendations of the 2001/2005 plans.

The new Master Plan reflects three land uses: economic development, community access, and habitat conservation. In its formal comments on the new plan, Openlands recommended collaboration with agencies with the expertise to implement significant-scale community access and habitat conservation features, including the Chicago park district, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; developing a strategy for comprehensively assessing the entire site for illegal dumping and toxic wastes and cleaning up or capping these deposits so that they no longer enter can enter Lake Calumet’s water habitat; and applying for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding. Working closely with local community and neighborhood advocacy groups and individuals over a 20-year period was the key to finally achieving a healthy future for Lake Calumet and its surrounding neighborhoods. 

Gaining Ground Through Volunteering at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

It started with a question among dedicated individuals: “Why can’t we have a National Wildlife Refuge here?” Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, which this fall will celebrate ten years since its official establishment, began just like that and has grown to a partnership of many organizations and individuals, including Openlands, and the protection of over a thousand acres and counting, for wildlife and people. 

The preservation of landscapes like Hackmatack is one of the ways that Openlands is gaining ground with land trusts across the country through the Land Trust Alliance. Over 60 million acres of land have been protected by land trusts in the United States with the goal of protecting 60 million more by 2030.  That ambitious goal is only possible if we increase the pace and scale of conservation in the region. Throughout this month we’ll be focusing on ways people can help us keep gaining ground through volunteering, advocating, and supporting land conservation.  At Hackmatack, preservation and restoration continues and when complete, the Refuge will include over 10,000 acres of protected land. 

The existence and growth of this National Wildlife Refuge and the work of volunteers go hand-in-hand. Back in 2004, a small group of volunteers, who came to be known as Friends of Hackmatack, began to pursue the possibility of transforming the land that Hackmatack now occupies into a wildlife refuge. Openlands became a key partner early on, and with other groups like McHenry County Conservation District, and over the next eight years public interest was gauged, and over $20,000 in donations were collected to start the Refuge. Eventually, thanks to the ongoing efforts made by partners, the proposed Refuge made national news, and then-Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar publicly announced the authorization of Hackmatack as a National Wildlife Refuge. Volunteers have been the backbone of Hackmatack from its inception and have continued to restore and care for the land so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. 

While Hackmatack is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its refuge manager, volunteers and partnerships are critical to the health and sustainability of Hackmatack. Openlands often acquires unrestored land and will work in lockstep with Friends of Hackmatack and McHenry County Conservation District to remove invasives, plant native plants, and restore the land to health. That means that the bulk of restoration work at Hackmatack falls into the hands of volunteers. 

According to Friends of Hackmatack Board Member Pete Jackson, one of the best examples of the impact that volunteers make at Hackmatack is through the ongoing work at Tamarack Farms, an area currently owned by Openlands: “We’ve been working there for over two years and we’ve put in over 825 hours of volunteer hours. This is a savanna that was severely degraded with overgrown brush. We were able to complete the clearing of that site and we’re doing follow-up work now.”

Jackie Bero, who works as the volunteer coordinator at the McHenry County Conservation District, explains that volunteers do more than just manage land. The volunteers who work with the Conservation District and Friends of Hackmatack are teachers and advocates who educate others about the importance of conservation. 

The necessity of volunteers cannot be understated; according to Bero, 511 registered volunteers in the Conservation District fulfill different volunteer roles including doing public outreach and education, along with restoration and land management. In 2021, volunteers worked over 6,000 hours, which equates to an additional three full-time staff. Without the work of volunteers, the scope of work necessary to keep Hackmatack restored would not be possible. 

“We can’t do it all ourselves, there’s too much land to cover. Frankly, we’re inspired [by the work of volunteers],” Bero explained.

People interested in volunteering can get involved in various capacities, ranging from one-off restoration visits to long-term projects. Many steady volunteers come to every workday and are the backbone of Hackmatack. However, for people unable to make a long-term commitment, restoration is the easiest thing for a drop-in volunteer to get involved with. According to Bero, all volunteers are welcome and appreciated. “If you don’t have a lot of time and can only make it once a year, that’s a couple of hours we can’t do on our own,” she said. 

Volunteers can take part in a number of different activities, including seed collecting, brush cutting, and plant and wildlife monitoring. For people looking for more advanced restoration work, the Conservation District offers training for chainsawing, herbicide use, prescribed burning, and pulling garlic mustard.  

Education is a core tenet of the mission of Friends of Hackmatack, and they always use workdays as an opportunity to help volunteers understand the importance of the local ecology and their work. The process of helping volunteers understand the natural world around them helps volunteers understand why their work is important and worth committing to. 

According to Friends of Hackmatack Officer and Board Member Steve Byers, the organization encourages their volunteers to become leaders in their own right and develop their own skills. “It’s a plus for the District and Friends of Hackmatack, but it’s a plus for the individuals that become leaders in stewardship activities. It’s an empowering experience,” he explained.

Beyond the on-the-ground restoration work that volunteers support, volunteers also play a crucial role in the policy work necessary to keep Hackmatack sustainable for future generations. According to Openlands’ Restoration Specialist Linda Masters, “A vibrant volunteer community is really the eyes and ears on the ground – they are constituents and voters. They will write to their legislators and ensure that these places remain and are not bulldozed or developed, that they are cared for.”

Anyone interested in volunteering at Hackmatack can do so by submitting an interest form through the McHenry County Conservation District and visiting the Stewardship Activities page through Friends of Hackmatack. Interested individuals can also reach out directly to Pete Jackson. Together, we can keep gaining ground to 2030! 

The 2022 ComEd Green Region Grant Is Now Available to Nonprofits, Educational Institutions, and More

For the past decade, the ComEd Green Region Grant has provided funding to municipalities all over Northern Illinois for conservation projects that plan for, protect, and restore natural places and support climate resilience and pollinator habitats. In celebration of its tenth year, ComEd has expanded the applicant pool to include a wider variety of organizations. Non-profit organizations, schools, school districts, housing authorities, townships, counties, park districts, conservation districts, forest preserve districts, and municipalities within ComEd’s service territory are now all eligible to apply for matching awards up to $10,000. 

Since 2013, ComEd competitive grant programs have made investments in communities to improve their infrastructure and quality of life. Collectively, these programs have delivered funding to improve green infrastructure, like parks, and to expand clean transportation in communities across northern Illinois.

Due to the success of Grant projects over the previous decade, the teams at ComEd and Openlands hope that expanding the opportunity to include a broader range of organizations will diversify the types of projects pursued. Projects can include, but are not limited to, planting trees, building rain gardens and butterfly gardens at schools, remediating toxic soil, and landscaping with native plants. 

The ComEd Green Region Grants are flexible and available to any organization listed above that can outline a project plan based on the program guidelines. While a variety of projects will be accepted, priority will be shown to projects that demonstrate a climate resiliency focus. The climate crisis is an imminent threat that puts the Chicago region at an increased risk for flooding, extreme heat, and invasive species. Along with the threat of climate change, overdevelopment has led to severe habitat loss that puts pollinators, on which the food chain depends, at risk of endangerment and extinction. Projects that increase native plantings, build the tree canopy, remove invasive species, capture rainwater and purify waterways all have a very real impact on the health of our ecosystems and the resilience of our region.

Previous grantees like the Chicago Park District, who received a grant in 2018 to install native plants and repair trails to increase site access at Palmisano Park in Bridgeport, have already seen an increase in butterfly traffic. According to Jason Steger, the Natural Areas Manager for the Chicago Park District, “The ComEd Green Region grant allowed us to improve pollinator habitat at Palmisano Park in a meaningful way. Volunteers of all ages helped us install the thousands of flowering native plants we were able to purchase with grant funds. In an area that was previously dominated by grasses, these plants provide food for pollinators and enhance the color palette of the natural area throughout the growing season.”

Applications are open until March 25 at 5pm, and no matter how small the project scope, all qualifying organizations are encouraged to apply! Organizations will require a cash match equal or greater to the funding requested at the time of application. If you have an idea for a conservation project at your organization, you are encouraged to apply for the 2022 ComEd Green Region Grant. If you are unsure whether your project idea qualifies for the Grant, feel free to reach out to the Green Region team at Openlands.

TreeKeepers Celebrates its 30th Anniversary with the Creation of TreeKeepers Chapters

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Openlands TreeKeeper’s Program. In that time, over 2,200 passionate advocates for nature have taken the TreeKeepers Course, learning the basics of trees and tree care. TreeKeepers have dedicated their time and energy to learning how to prune, plant, and advocate for the Chicago region’s urban forest. In honor of TreeKeepers’ 30th anniversary, Openlands is looking at the tremendous impact that TreeKeepers have made over the past five years, especially the important work that these dedicated volunteers have accomplished throughout the pandemic.

One of the most exciting new developments of the last five years is the leadership that TreeKeepers have taken to create local Chapters. TreeKeepers have taken it upon themselves to plan workdays and work with a variety of partners, including park districts, Alderpeople, municipalities, and others, to plant new trees in places where they’re most needed and perform ongoing pruning to keep existing trees healthy.

The most robust and first TreeKeepers Chapter is based in Hyde Park and was started by Nancy Joseph, who completed the TreeKeepers course in 2013 and proudly wears the badge of TreeKeeper 1,189. According to Nancy, who originally trained as a Master Naturalist with the Forest Preserves of Cook County before taking the TreeKeepers course, becoming a TreeKeeper completely changed the way she engages with the world around her:

“I can’t walk down the street now without looking at a tree that needs to be pruned and what I would do to that tree. It has changed the way I move around my neighborhood significantly. Working in some of the neighborhoods where we work has really made me appreciate the difference between areas that have a lot of trees versus those that don’t have trees.”

These realizations led her to notice how much work needed to be done in her home community of Hyde Park, where she has lived for 24 years. Nancy initially began pruning cherry trees on her own at Jackson Park with the help of Jerome Scott, the District Forester of the Chicago Park District and also a volunteer TreeKeeper. Eventually, Nancy connected with other TreeKeepers in Hyde Park and formed a group that met for workdays twice per month, once to prune trees on the street and once at a local park. The group grew over time along with a dedicated core group of people in Hyde Park. They are often joined by TreeKeepers from all around the city and suburbs to help prune trees.

While the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily put TreeKeepers activities on hold, once the group received permission from the Park District and Openlands, they started weekly pruning events. According to Nancy, these events helped provide a sense of purpose during the challenging global crisis:

“It was exciting to have something to do. We had a core group that would come weekly and would prune huge stretches in Washington Park and the Midway [Plaisance]. It was a nice respite for all of us, and we got an awful lot of trees pruned.”

Now, the Hyde Park Chapter has resumed twice-monthly pruning sessions. The impact of their dedicated work cannot be underestimated, and their work helped nearly double the number that TreeKeepers pruned from 2,000 to 4,000 trees.

The Hyde Park TreeKeepers Chapter is an example of the impact that committed TreeKeepers can have in their community over time, and there is an opportunity to form TreeKeeper-led chapters, both inside and outside of Chicago.

One of the newest burgeoning chapters is located in Downers Grove, where there is currently an exciting collaboration between the Downers Grove Park District and the TreeKeepers Program. Mike Stelter currently serves as the Superintendent of Natural Resources at Downers Grove Park District and approached Openlands TreeKeepers Program Manager Al De Reu in 2019 about forming a partnership. Stelter was developing an urban forest management plan, and the Park District identified the need to involve citizens in forestry work and engage an active group of volunteers in tree care and planting.

The TreeKeepers program was included in the urban forest management plan, and while the creation of the Downers Grove TreeKeepers Chapter was temporarily put on hold due to the pandemic, small workdays began in the fall of 2020 and have continued since.

One of the biggest challenges that the Downers Grove Chapter faces is the need for more trained TreeKeepers based in the suburbs. The majority of TreeKeepers are based in Chicago, and Stelter hopes to garner more interest from local volunteers in the training and grow a group of dedicated TreeKeepers in Dupage County.

Curtis Fahlberg is one of a few Dupage County residents trained as a TreeKeeper, and he is currently leading the charge for the Downers Grove Chapter. Curtis was trained in 2019 and is currently a Hinsdale resident, where he says he has benefitted from the dense tree canopy and the diverse array of species that were planted in response to Dutch elm disease.

According to Curtis, he hopes to get local residents engaged with the TreeKeepers Program, as he says it is a rewarding experience that benefits both individuals and the local community: “Some new volunteers are getting a shovel in their hands for the first time and they are getting their hands dirty for the first time. They just have no idea what’s inside these root balls and it’s quite an adventure. It’s been fabulous therapy throughout the pandemic.”

On a recent workday in October, Curtis described how personal the planting of a tree can be. He planted a sweet gum tree for his niece Abigail and her husband Mike, who will be having a baby soon. He hopes to bring their family to visit the tree and watch it grow over time.

“It’s a very hopeful thing to plant a tree,” he explained.

TreeKeeper Nancy also spoke of her hope for the future of the TreeKeepers Program, explaining the value of expanding chapters into more communities:

“I hope that people who have had the training find that now is an important time to get involved with trees, as they’re so critical to so many of the ecosystem services of an urban environment. We really need people to get out and help. I hope we can encourage more people to create groups in their neighborhood.”

You can learn more about the TreeKeepers Program and how to get involved with the creation of local chapters here. We look forward to another 30 years!

Alan Bell Appointed Chair of Conservation and Policy Council of the Cook County Forest Preserves

Openlands and the Forest Preserves of Cook County are connected by a long and deep history, spanning back to Openlands’ founding when Charles “Cap” Sauers , who served as General Superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, joined Openlands as a Board Member. The relationship continues today as Openlands Board Member Alan Bell becomes Chair of the Conservation and Policy Council. The Council is tasked with guiding the efforts to implement the Next Century Conservation Plan – an inspired pathway to ensure that people’s love and enthusiasm for nature is realized.   

Alan has served on the Council for several years and on Openlands Board for 12. He is an active attorney engaged in public finance and public-private partnerships. He is a board member of the Land Trust Alliance and founder and CEO of the Elements Group, which is committed to inspiring projects that have a lasting impact on people, the natural environment, and the world. He is passionate about nature and committed to community conservation and engagement, especially when it comes to diverse populations. His values and experience make Alan a perfect complement to the goals of the Next Century Conservation Plan and the work of the Council as it advances its civic commitment to secure the resources needed to care for the first forest preserve system in the nation.  

Alan takes over the Council Chair from Wendy Paulson who led the 11-member organization through its inaugural years. Wendy is an avid birder, conservationist, and Openlands board member for the past eight years. Wendy transitioned to the Chair of Council after serving as one of the four co-chairs of the Next Century Conservation Plan Commission that oversaw the development of the Plan. Bob Megquier, Openlands Executive Vice President of Programs, has also served as an invaluable member of the Plan’s leadership team, serving as a senior advisor to Forest Preserve staff and the Council.

In 2012 the Cook County Forest Preserves was approaching its centennial anniversary, which was a cause for celebration, reflection, and looking to the future. Openlands’ long-time relationship led to an invitation from the Forest Preserves to help lead a planning effort, alongside Metropolis Strategies, to create a visionary plan looking into the next century of the Forest Preserves’ work. The vision needed to acknowledge and plan for issues not imagined in 1915 such as climate change and its effect on our region, the changing demographics of Cook County, and the contribution of healthy nature in helping to ensure healthy people. As a public agency with such a rich history that currently owns more than 10% of Cook County, the Forest Preserves wanted to take an integrated approach to planning for the future of the county’s open lands by including the important role of civic leadership in developing and driving implementation of the Plan.

The Conservation and Policy Council is the leadership team tasked with implementing the Plan and helping to bring resources to the Forest Preserves. One of the most important responsibilities of the Council is to bridge the public and private sector and drive funding to the Forest Preserves so that the goals of the plan can become a reality.

During the first five years of work of the Council it became glaringly obvious that the Cook County Forest Preserves are structurally underfunded. This is tragic because it guarantees that the preserves will never be fully cared for. The invasive plants that destroy the forests, prairies, and wetlands will win out over the oaks and hickory trees and the wildlife that depend on them. New trails and facilities will not be built, and existing ones will deteriorate. Over time, the health of the preserves will decline, and we will all lose something valuable.

That’s where the Conservation and Policy Council comes in. One of the most impactful ways to drive revenue to the Forest Preserves is through a property tax referendum that would adjust its revenue to be more in line with its need to ensure a healthy and inviting system of preserves. The Council will play a central role in building the community of support needed for a referendum to pass.

One good reason Cook County taxpayers should feel good about giving more money to the Forest Preserves is that December 2020 marks Arnold Randall’s 10th anniversary as General Superintendent of the Cook County Forest Preserves. Appointed by President Toni Preckwinkle, Arnold has transformed what was described by many as a political dumping ground costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually into a high-functioning and transparent government agency where employees not only do their job but take pride in their work. Arnold’s commitment is exemplified by sound conservation planning, award-winning work, and a dedication to engaging the conservation community and Cook County residents. Arnold has demonstrated his leadership over the last 10 years and has earned our trust that he will spend taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently.

Our local preserves offer us free access to the healing power of nature. Keeping these critical ecosystems healthy should be a high priority for all of us who have treasured our moments outdoors and in nature. To get alerts when the referendum and other advocacy opportunities arise, sign up for our Cook County Action Alerts.

Solberg Manufacturing Explains The Importance Of Environmental Stewardship Within Business

By: Openlands Communications Coordinator, Lucia Whalen

On a hot summer August morning in the parking lot of Solberg Manufacturing, Charlie Solberg waters a thriving bush of asparagus in a garden that spans 250 feet. A random passerby might look curiously on the scene, given that it is 11am on a Thursday and Charlie is dressed in business casual.

Charlie Solberg is the CEO of Solberg Manufacturing, a B-Corp and leader in the production of filtration, silencing, and oil mist elimination systems. Solberg Manufacturing sets the standard for corporate environmental stewardship and social responsibility by engaging employees in volunteer opportunities, donating 1% of yearly sales to various nonprofit organizations and supporting Openlands as a Corporate Member, and implementing environmentally sustainable practices at their headquarters in Itasca, Illinois. 

Charlie Solberg in the garden with Solberg Manufacturing employees. Staff are encouraged to participate in the garden and take home food. Crops grown this year include grapes, blackberries, broccoli, beets, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, brussels sprouts, kale, beans, corn, asparagus, zucchini, and pumpkins.

The business is family-owned by Charlie and Tor Solberg. Charlie’s two sons Chad and Travis currently work in sales and sustainability and his daughter Sarah works in international sales development. Travis, who works as the Chief Sustainability Steward for Solberg, helped Tor in securing the company’s B-Corp designation in 2011.

Solberg Manufacturing is Openlands’ first Corporate Member, and according to Chad and Travis, they made their decision to donate to Openlands in part because of their desire to support the Great Lakes and focus on supporting local environmental organizations. Water and trees are at the top of their funding priorities, and Solberg donates just over 50% of their charitable giving to environmental organizations.

Solberg Manufacturing was founded in 1968 when Charles Solberg Sr., Charlie’s father, invented a tubular silencer design for small air compressors for industrial equipment. In 1980, Charles Solberg Jr. (Charlie) introduced a filter silencer, which limits the noise made by machinery and protects employees from noise pollution. Solberg’s contaminant-removal products can now be found internationally in a wide range of industries, including pharmaceuticals, plastics, oil and gas, waste and recycling, and power generation, to name a few. Charlie runs the business with his brother, Tor, who is President of Solberg Manufacturing. 

The Solberg family is committed to environmental stewardship on all levels of the company, which Chad and Travis attribute to their grandfather’s influence.  

“From the beginning, our grandpa was nature-minded. He got us all started on that path and now “We Love Our Planet” is one of our six guiding principles. Our owners and personnel embody this spirit every day and our communal garden is living proof,” Chad said. Along with the expansive garden, which all employees are encouraged to work on and take food from, the Itasca campus boasts an impressive orchard of fruit trees and berry bushes. Natalie, who works at the production plant, picks wild black raspberries and blackberries, and shares the dishes she prepares with other employees. Apple, pear, peach, apricot, and plum trees stand outside Solberg headquarters, and blackberry bushes and grape vines line the side of the building.

Travis picks black raspberries from one of the bushes that lines Solberg Manufacturing’s headquarters.

Across the street from Solberg headquarters stands one of the company’s manufacturing facilities whose roof is covered in solar panels; the panels are responsible for over 100% of the energy production in the facility. Behind the building, a sign provides information on the native prairie butterfly garden that extends along the side of the building. There, Travis keeps a hive of bees that produce honey.

While many companies think that incorporating environmentally friendly practices into their operations is too expensive, Travis says that that belief is incorrect.

“For solar energy, that initial cost is a lot, but you can work with banks or different installers to pay for it. Our first building got solar panels in 2010 and our ROI [return on investment] commenced in 2018. It’s worth taking the time to investigate,” he said.  

Environmental stewardship is one of their values, and Chad explained how being profitable allows Solberg to support this very important value:

“We’re trying to be a company that has purpose and guiding principles. We consciously make an effort to make a positive impact on our planet and we appropriate funding to make that happen. Whether that’s donating a percentage of sales every year like we do with Openlands or analyzing our manufacturing processes like Travis does.”

The Solberg Prairie Garden sits behind one of the company’s buildings in Itasca, Illinois. Bees from a hive across from the Garden pollinate the plants and produce honey.

Solberg Manufacturing became an Openlands Corporate Member in 2014 and has increased their support over time. Solberg’s increased support allowed for Openlands’ purchase of Salsa, an advocacy platform that has been utilized to raise public awareness about campaigns including the Urban Forestry Advisory Board (UFAB) Ordinance and the Federal passage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund

“We want to be leaders in our industry as it relates to environmental impact because it’s important and we feel like other companies will and should do so as well,” Chad said.  

As Corporate Members, Solberg Manufacturing receives recognition for their support, including this blog post, a lunch and learn opportunity, and other ways to engage their employees in Openlands’ work across the region.

Click here for more information on how to become a Corporate Member, or contact Kate Schriner, Manager of Institutional Giving, at kschriner@openlands.org. 

*Cover photo of solar panels courtesy of Solberg Manufacturing

Speak at Public Meetings on Flooding in Lake County

Residents in Lake County are encouraged to speak at one of the upcoming meetings hosted by Lake County Stormwater Management Commission regarding flooding in Lake County, IL.

As you know, Lake County is experiencing stronger and more frequent rainfalls. To better protect its residents and businesses from this, the Lake County Stormwater Management Commission (SMC) is now re-evaluating its regulations for new developments. The Commission also seeks to share helpful information with a greater number of property owners, and hear their concerns and suggestions. 

Please speak at one of the upcoming meetings the Commission is hosting on this topic. If you want stronger protections from flooding, this is the time for elected officials to hear from you.

We encourage you to share your story of how flooding has impacted you, and ask for stronger flood protections designed to handle the future storms being projected for Lake County. Please take up to three minutes.

Tuesday, July 16 | 2pm
Highland Park City Hall
1707 St. Johns Ave, Highland Park, IL

Wednesday, July 24 | 10am
Barrington Village Hall 
200 S. Hough St, Barrington, IL

State Representative Sam Yingling and Lake County Board Member Terry Wilke are hosting a floodproofing and rainfall information meeting where Lake County SMC will be the presenting agency. 

Thursday, August 8 | 6pm
Round Lake High School (Theater) 
800 High School Drive, Round Lake, IL

Learn more…

Conservation Lobby Day

Join us on March 13 for Conservation Lobby Day in Springfield!

Conservationists are gathering in Springfield to advocate for Illinois’ environment. State legislators, members of the Pritzker Administration, and other advocates will discuss Illinois’ priorities related to conservation funding, endangered species protection, and other critical issues for our community.

Register Now (via Illinois Environmental Council)

Please select Openlands when registering and please contact us below to coordinate travel arrangements.


Contact:

Phone: 312.863.6268
Email: policy@openlands.org


Travel:

Option 1: Amtrak from Union Station in Chicago to Springfield ($48)
Depart: 7am
Return: 8:45pm (estimated)

Option 2: Drive a carpool. Please contact us for help coordinating carpools.

Where to meet in Springfield: IEC Headquarters, 520 E. Capitol Avenue, Springfield, IL 60633 — 10am


Itinerary

  • 7am: Travel. Receive issue briefings and legislator info if traveling on train
  • 10:30am: Arrive at IEC’s Springfield office for orientation and instructions
  • 11am: Walk to Capitol, meet with legislators (401 S. 2nd Street)
  • 1pm: Lunch provided at a local restaurant
  • 2pm: Continue meeting with legislators, IDNR staff (TBD)
  • 4:45pm: Depart Amtrak (100 N. 3rd Street)
  • 8:45pm: Arrive back in Chicago

Itinerary is subject to minor changes.


For more information on Conservation Lobby Day, please contact policy@openlands.org.

With Costs of Climate Change Rising, It’s Time to Act

Illinois needs to get serious on climate change before it hits our economy hard. California’s largest utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric, has announced that they have literally been bankrupted by climate change. Faulty PG&E equipment has been cited as the source for many of the devastating wildfires that swept across California in 2017 and 2018, and facing an estimated $17B – $30B in liabilities, the company publicly announced plans to file for Chapter 11 on January 29, 2019.

Climate change is a principal factor in the intensity of those fires, and while Illinois won’t face the same threats as California, it’s only a matter of time until we are dealing with our own climate-fueled disaster. Climate change will have a different face in Illinois, and we will see the costs add up in healthcare, urban and rural flooding, crop failure, and strained infrastructure. The wrong thing to do in these instances would be to subsidize the costs, liabilities, and risks with new burdens on utility and tax payers. The right thing to do is investing in strategies that reduce our collective risks and protect our communities from the changes we must expect.

The reality is that we are starting to run out of time to act on climate change, so we need to transition our economy to clean energy, and just as importantly, we need to scale up strategies that help put carbon back in the ground. We must prioritize solutions that offer multiple benefits for each single investment.

Photo (top): Jasmin Shah

Monarchs

Nature-based solutions to climate change are cost-effective models that simultaneously provide environmental, societal, and economic benefits and help build climate resilience. Healthy, natural lands put carbon back in the soil, but Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources, county conservation districts, and forest preserves are starved for funding to care for their land. Money focused here would create healthier lands, provide public recreation, and build community resiliency.

Tree-lined streets and urban parks reduce both air pollution and air temperatures, together lowering the number of hospital visits, missed school days, and exorbitant energy bills. Through our Space to Grow program, for example, Openlands works in partnership with government agencies, other non-profits, and private sector entities to reduce neighborhood flooding while providing improved schoolyards and community green space. Illinois needs more thinking like this.

Land can no longer have one primary designated use, but rather must have multiple functions. We need many more public-private partnerships that provide funding, knowledge, and expertise both to implement the strategies we know will work and to pioneer new solutions that deliver multiple benefits for climate resiliency. As the PG&E example indicates, we know these costs are coming if we do nothing, and we know the actions we can take to prevent it. Gov. Pritzker has committed Illinois to the US Climate Alliance, and that’s an important start, but we need far more help if we’re going to get serious in tackling this challenge.

Helping Restore the Tree Canopy at Indian Ridge Marsh

On the chilly morning of Saturday, October 13, Openlands teamed-up with partners on Chicago’s Southeast Side for a tree planting at Indian Ridge Marsh. Joining us at the planting were team members from the Student Conservation Association (SCA), Audubon Great Lakes, the Chicago Park District, The Wetlands Initiative (TWI), and the U Chicago Lab School.

Indian Ridge Marsh is a 154-acre native marsh and wet prairie habitat in the Calumet region. It sits as part of an extraordinary network of adjacent natural areas on the Southeast Side including Wolf Lake, the Calumet River, Big Marsh, and Lake Calumet. The Calumet Wetlands Working Group — which includes The Wetlands Institute, the Chicago Park District, and Audubon Great Lakes — has been restoring Indian Ridge Marsh since 2016 as part of an important conservation effort that will inform restoration and management of remnant wetland sites across the Calumet area.

Healthy and stewarded natural areas are part of the green mosaic of vibrant, resilient urban environments. They help clean our air, manage stormwater, house our region’s biodiversity, and provide a place of respite from our hectic urban centers. Due to pressure of invasive species, climate change, and development, it is essential to actively manage these open spaces, with native tree planting as a key component.

Volunteers spent their morning planting trees and shrubs in the natural areas at Indian Ridge Marsh. We planted bur oaks, swamp white oaks, and hop-hornbeam, as well as hazelnut trees, hackberry trees, dogwoods, and more! The morning was organized as part of the Openlands TreePlanters Grants program, which provides communities in Chicago and southern Cook County plant new trees in their neighborhood.

“A big thank you to our partners at the Park District, SCA, TWI, Audubon Great Lakes, and Lab School for providing crews, equipment, knowledge, and enthusiasm to plant these trees,” said Michael Dugan, Openlands Director of Forestry. “This was truly a collaborative effort of conservation organizations, stewards, and volunteers in our city and region.”

You can check out our photos from the community tree planting below. If you’re interested in volunteering with Openlands tree planting program, check out our upcoming events here. Our applications for the Spring 2019 TreePlanters Grants will open in January. For more information, please contact trees@openlands.org.