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Space to Grow Celebrates Opening of New Schoolyard with Community Partners and Elected Officials Including Mayor Lori Lightfoot

On Saturday, June 5, dignitaries including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Alderman Jason Irvin, Dr. Andrea Cheng, Chicago’s Acting Commissioner of Water, and MWRD Commissioner Kimberly du Blucet, joined members of the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, architects from Studio Gang and Space to Grow partners to celebrate an amazing set of community resources that included the new Space to Grow schoolyard at Melody STEM elementary school in West Garfield Park.

So far, Space to Grow has opened 25 schoolyards across the city, with a focus on underinvested neighborhoods. Five more are under construction and will be completed this fall. “We look forward to working with our Space to Grow partners to bring more green schoolyards to communities across Chicago, “ said Gerald Adelmann, president and CEO of Openlands. 

How to Get Trees Planted In Your Chicago Neighborhood

Planting trees is one of the simplest nature-based solutions to climate change and is a tangible way for individuals to make a positive impact on the environment. However, planting a tree is easier said than done, and effectively planting in a way that ensures the long-term health of the tree requires more knowledge and skill than simply digging a hole. Trees provide so many benefits to people and the environment, from increasing property values and beautifying neighborhoods, to absorbing rainwater and decreasing the urban heat island effect. Programs in Chicago provide new trees and replace trees lost on city blocks to residents with the condition that residents put in the time and work to maintain the tree once it’s planted. We want to help you become an active steward of Chicago’s urban forest, which is why we’ve created this guide to help you find trees in Chicago through one of the programs offered to residents.

Chicago 311

Chicago residents looking to plant a tree in their neighborhood can contact Chicago’s 3-1-1 service. The process is simple, and residents can simply call 3-1-1 or submit a request online with their address. Once the request is approved, the Bureau of Forestry will plant a tree along the public right-of-way in your neighborhood. There may be significant time between an inspected and approved request and actual tree planting. Make sure you keep the tree watered, as it is critical for the survival of the tree. 

We recommend that you water a newly planted tree once you see leaves in the spring and until the leaves fall off in the fall, and give the tree 10-15 gallons of water per week. After three years, once the tree is established, you can discontinue watering unless there is a drought. Watch a full video tutorial on how to water a new tree with Openlands Forestry Program Manager Katie Fleming.

Learn more about how to contact 3-1-1.

Openlands TreePlanters Grants

Openlands TreePlanters Grants provide new trees to communities in the City of Chicago and the near south suburbs. The grants encourage resilience through planting trees and creating a network of neighbors to care for the trees. The TreePlanters Grant program was designed  to facilitate conversations about trees between neighbors and to create a community of tree advocacy in Chicago’s neighborhoods. 

Communities are asked to organize themselves, find sufficient places to plant 10 – 40 trees, meet their neighbors, reach out and invite their elected officials, and create a successful event all in the name of learning more about the benefits of trees and the proper way to plant and maintain new trees.

Openlands provides the education, organization, supplies, expertise, and quality control. On planting day, the Openlands Forestry Crew and certified TreeKeepers provide tools, trees, mulch and training for volunteers. In return, we ask that you help gather your neighbors, commit to work the full event (four hours), and keep caring for the trees for the next few years while they get established.

Learn more about the Openlands TreePlanters Grants.

Chicago Region Trees Initiative Program

As part of the Plant Trees for Communities Initiative with the Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI), of which Openlands is a founding member, individuals are invited to plant at least one tree in every local community in the seven-county Chicago region and in each of the 50 Chicago wards (approx. 340 trees) in 2021. The Openlands Forestry team has partnered with CRTI’s program through the TreePlanters Grant. 

Each tree kit from CRTI comes with instructions on how to plant, mulch, and water your tree, along with a tree tag and tree owner’s manual. This program is a great option for anyone with tree planting experience who feels confident about their ability to manage the entire tree planting process, from planting to watering and mulching over a span of three years. Contact Lydia Scott at lscott@mortonarb.org with the Morton Arboretum to find out how to get your free tree.

Learn more about the Plant Trees for Communities program.

Purchase a Tree at the Openlands Native Tree and Plant Sale

The Openlands Native Tree and Plant Sale offers a wide variety of native trees for purchase that are not available at most big-box stores and nurseries. The Native Tree and Plant Sale is an excellent place to find more specific varieties of native trees that might not be available through one of the public tree planting programs.

Shop the sale.

Public vs. Private Planting Rules

If you are planting a tree on your own, it is essential that you only plant on your private property. In order to plant a tree in a City parkway such as through the 3-1-1 and TreePlanters Grant program, organizations must possess the necessary credentials to dig in the public right of way. 

Individuals can plant anywhere in their yard, as long as the tree is at least one foot away from the sidewalk. To understand the best way to plant a tree, watch this video of Tom Ebeling, Openlands Community Arborist, who takes you through the step-by-step process and speaks to best practices. 

At Openlands, we emphasize the importance of taking care of our urban forest and planting trees for the health of communities and the planet, and our Forestry team has planted more than 6,500 trees across the Chicago region since 2013. Thank you for taking action as a steward of our urban forest to increase the tree canopy in your neighborhood!

Why Mussel Loss Is Harming Freshwater Streams And How It Could Affect Our Drinking Water

By Openlands

Before the buttons that fasten our coats and dress shirts were made from plastic, buttons were made from the shells of freshwater mussels here in the Midwest. And while most people don’t give buttons a second thought, the tiny ornament is responsible for setting in motion the decimation of freshwater mussels in Illinois and surrounding states, threatening species that are crucial for maintaining water quality and ecosystem diversity in waterways. Currently, 72% of the roughly 300 species of freshwater mussels in the United States are extinct or in danger of extinction, which is why Openlands has teamed up with the Shedd Aquarium on a long-term mussel monitoring project at Hoffman Farm. The farm is one of five sites Openlands is currently working to protect in support of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge and is the inherited family farm of Elena Spiegelhoff, which Spiegelhoff donated to preserve the natural beauty of the area. Hoffman Farm has been preserved through a partnership between The Land Conservancy of McHenry County and Openlands. The farm spans 153 acres and sits just north or Glacial Park within Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge. Nippersink Creek, where the long-term monitoring project takes place, runs through Hoffman farm. The project seeks to understand whether reproduction and equally important, survival of all ages, is occurring within North Branch Nippersink Creek.

Beginning in the late 1800’s, the banks of the Mississippi River became a destination for clammers, as the waters were teeming with mussels whose shells were used to make pearl buttons. From the banks of the Mississippi and waterways in Illinois and Iowa, a multi-million dollar industry was born. Button factories lined the Mississippi River, and entire communities thrived on the emerging industry. However, harvesting was fully unregulated, and when one stream bed was emptied, clammers simply moved on to the next. In 1913 the harvests from the Illinois River yielded almost 600 tons of shells. Historically, Chicago had a rich and diverse population of mussels: The Des Plaines River and Lake Michigan tributaries had roughly 34 species, while the Fox River had 31 and the Kankakee River and basin had 40 species. In 2012, the Illinois Natural History Survey reported 19 species of mussel in the Des Plaines River basin and the Lake Michigan tributaries in Illinois. Of these 19, only 9 were found live. 

Freshwater mussels are crucial for filtering water and maintaining stream biodiversity. Mussels are also an indicator species of pollutants in waterways. Most mussels are like a brita filter for streams, which can be demonstrated by filling two aquariums with cloudy, dirty water. After 24 hours, the aquarium’s water with mussels is almost entirely clear. Of course, there are exceptions, and the invasive Zebra Mussel in the Great Lakes is so overpopulated that they make the water too clear, which has increased toxic algae blooms and deprived other species of food.

Photo courtesy of the Delaware Estuary Water Clarity Project

Healthy waterways are essential to the resilience of our region, which is why Openlands has been involved in monitoring mussel populations throughout the Chicago region. Openlands worked with partners to produce A Field Guide to the Freshwater Mussels of Chicago Wilderness in 2008, in order to encourage the monitoring of mussels in Chicago waterways. Now, Openlands is partnered with the Shedd Aquarium at Hoffman Farm in a long-term monitoring project. Shedd Aquarium staff set up nine monitoring sites in North Branch Nippersink Creek at Hoffman Farm in 2019. Based on the diversity of species they found at each site, they chose one area for long-term monitoring. Over a three-day period, all the live mussels in the area were caught, brought on shore to be measured, had their rings counted (similar to tree, mussels have rings that show their age), genetically sampled, then pit tagged before being put back in in the water. Pit tagging is similar to microchipping a pet and allows each mussel to be located and identified from year to year.

The main purpose of the long-term monitoring project is to monitor the survival over time of mussels in the system, including how individuals are surviving and whether reproduction is occurring. Mussels have a long lifespan that extends on average 60 years. However, while older mussels may still be abundant in streams, the young mussels may not be able to survive, resulting in a loss of the population over time.

Mussel larvae are called glochidia, which attach to fish in their early years to survive before becoming juveniles who can survive on their own. Younger mussels can be extremely sensitive to pollution. For example, fat mucket glochidia are sensitive to chloride levels and ellipse glochidia are sensitive to ammonia. So even if older mussels are surviving, younger mussels might not be able to survive because of pollutants from runoff, nearby industry, or a loss of fish hosts for glochidia.

Currently, 12 different mussel species are tagged at the long-term monitoring site at Hoffman Farm. While the button industry may have been the initial antagonist of freshwater mussel loss, our modern polluting practices, like salting winter roads and using waterways as dumping sites for industries, have exacerbated the problem and posed new threats to this endangered taxa. 

Through the work at Hoffman Farm, we hope to understand the survival of our local freshwater mussels and identify whether populations are holding their own at Hackmatack. The health and biodiversity of our waterways depends on the survival of these tiny powerhouses.

Planting Trees, Growing Careers: Openlands Forestry Training Program

Imagine this:

The Forestry Crew lead a Tree Planting with Niños Heroes

It’s a Saturday in spring and a community group has gathered to plant the next generation of trees throughout their neighborhood. They are buzzing with excitement and groups form circles to stretch. You are leading a group and you teach them how to correctly plant the trees in front of their homes. Two kids name their trees “Barky” and “Leafy”. The community now has forty new trees to care for and steward.

The following week, you are in historic Jackson Park, overlooking Lake Michigan. Surrounded by large, mature trees, you provide mulch and water for smaller trees that were planted the previous year. As you revisit the park, you feel a sense of pride watching these young trees grow and thrive.

The next month, you work alongside a group of dedicated volunteers called TreeKeepers. You use a variety of tools to strategically cut off branches, assisting the trees in developing a healthy form and growth structure. The group gathers at the end of the workday, feeling rewarded in the work accomplished.

Climbing Training at Cantigny

At the end of the summer, you sit on a tree limb forty feet high. You spent the entire day learning how to use ropes, harnesses and hitches, ascending and descending a group of trees over and over. This is the highest point you have climbed so far and you feel accomplished. Looking out over the landscape, you think, “I could get used to this view”.

Three months later, you receive a full-time job offer from a tree care company for a tree climber position.

Interested? If so, the Openlands Forestry Training Program could be the right fit for you.

Since 2018, the Forestry Training Program has provided interested individuals paid hands-on field experiences, trainings and professional development opportunities in arboriculture. Over eight months, trainees experience the full life-cycle of an urban tree by selecting trees at the nursery, planting trees, conducting tree establishment maintenance (watering, mulching and pruning), and inventorying established trees.

The community tree planting events in spring and fall are a highlight of the program. “Meeting and connecting with people from different communities was always a great time,” 2019 Forestry Trainee Glenn explains. “Everybody just has the same vision and goal in mind to help the Earth and Chicago’s green landscape.” Past trainees are currently pursuing or have obtained jobs in urban forestry or conservation.

“This program was life-changing”, Shayne expressed, “I didn’t even know I wanted to do this and now I see this as my future career.”

The Forestry Crew receives Feller I Training

Trainees meet with and learn from industry professionals in commercial arboriculture, municipal forestry, and those in advocacy and research roles to help establish long-term connections in the field. By learning and engaging with experts, trainees leave the program with a well-rounded experience and confidence to pursue positions in the tree care industry.

“The coolest part of the program, was getting to work with an awesome team, meeting so many people, and getting exposed to a lot of really cool opportunities. All of the skills I’ve learned throughout this time has allowed me now to focus on where I’m going to go and what I want to do after the program.”

– Shayne, 2019 Forestry Trainee

Openlands hopes to continue inspiring future arborists and advocates for Chicagoland’s urban forest through the Forestry Training Program.  Whether you’re a current practitioner seeking change or a novice who just likes being outside, this program could be the right fit for you! Follow Openlands on Facebook, Twitter and, Instagram to see what the 2020 Forestry Trainees are up to!  If you have any questions or inquiries about the program, email forestry@openlands.org.

Explore the Lake Michigan Water Trail with Openlands

Explore the Lake Michigan Water Trail this summer at one or more of the following free events! Enjoy the trail by paddling on Lake Michigan in large, guided, beginner-appropriate voyageur canoes, and learn about opportunities for recreation, education, and stewardship along Illinois’ northern Lake Michigan coast!

All events include beginner-friendly paddling experiences and other family friendly activities. People of all ages, skill levels, and abilities are welcome – bring your family and connect to Lake Michigan! Life vests and paddles will be provided.

Friday, August 2 | Waukegan Harbor
55 S. Harbor Place, Waukegan, IL 60085
When: 1-6pm
Kayaking and canoeing for all ages

Saturday, August 3 | North Point Marina
701 North Point Drive, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096
When: 2-7pm
Kayaking for ages 10+ (ages 7+ with a parent)

Download the Lake Michigan Events Flyer

For more information, please contact paddle@openlands.org.

Illinois Tollway Ends Work on Route 53, Tri-County Access Projects

Openlands is very excited to share with you that the Tri-County Access project, which includes the Route 53 Extension, is dead.

Today, the Illinois Tollway announced that they will forgo completion of the proposed Tri-County Access project, an effort to extend new highway development from Cook County, through the middle of Lake County, and into eastern McHenry County. The proposed route included the Route 53 Extension, the Route 120 Bypass, and the Lake-McHenry Corridor. Likewise, the Lake County Board announced this past Tuesday that they will consider transportation alternatives to the project. Together, these announcements are an important milestone that moves us towards transportation solutions that allow Lake and McHenry Counties to be healthy, resilient, and competitive.

Openlands has been involved in the fight against the Tri-County Access project and Route 53 Extension since day one, and we will continue to collaborate with partners across the region to help develop and implement a comprehensive plan that increases our resiliency to a changing climate while balancing the needs of a growing region with healthy natural lands that benefit both people and wildlife.

After decades of history on this project, we celebrate that we can finally lift the specter of this project and collaborate to build a brighter, more sustainable future for northeastern Illinois.

Below are press statements from Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann:

Statement on Route 53

“As a former member of the Blue-Ribbon Advisory Council, we congratulate the Tollway and the Lake County Board for moving beyond the Route 53 Extension towards multi-modal transportation solutions that will make Lake County more prosperous and resilient to climate change.  It demonstrates that transportation projects don’t have to sacrifice our communities, our health and some of the finest natural landscapes in the country.  This decision opens the door to true consensus in how reclaiming the Route 53 corridor can offer vital linear connections and world class amenities to the county and the region.”

Statement on Tri-County Access

“Openlands commends the Illinois Tollway’s decision to forgo completion of the Tri-County Access project in Cook, Lake, and McHenry counties. The proposed route of the Tri-County Access project would have directly harmed some of the region’s most scenic and valued natural areas, including Volo Bog State Natural Area, Lake County’s Liberty Prairie Reserve, Heron Creek Forest Preserve, McHenry County’s Glacial Park, and Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. We look forward to collaborating on the creation of comprehensive, complementary transportation plans that respect the health of communities, our region’s natural heritage, and the need to increase resiliency in a changing climate.”

For more inforamtion, please contact info@openlands.org.

Media Contact

Photo: Chicago Tribune

Celebrating 40 Years of North Park Village Nature Center

Nestled into the north side of Chicago is one of the city’s best natural treasures, North Park Village Nature Center. The Nature Center is managed by the Chicago Park District, and thanks to the dedicated work of the volunteer network, this vibrant natural area is home to many different habitats, trails, and educational resources.

One of the Nature Center’s most popular programs is the annual collection of maple tree sap to produce maple syrup. For over 30 years, the Park District has offered the program to residents and volunteers to help them appreciate, care for, and learn about the site’s trees. But as these trees have aged, they’ve identified the need to plant new maples to continue this tradition.

To celebrate the Nature Center’s 40th anniversary, the Chicago Park District asked Openlands to assist with a planting of 40 sugar maples. On May 8, our Forestry Team assisted volunteers from North Park Village Nature Center and the Chicago Park District in the tree planting. Check out a video from the workday:

Since 2013, Openlands has worked with volunteers and the Chicago Park District to plant nearly 300 trees at North Park Village Nature Center as part of the Park District’s efforts to steward healthy habitats. It’s truly a spectacular community resource and we strongly encourage you to check it out.

Volunteers Needed to Help Run the Native Tree & Plant Sale Pop-Up Shop

We are looking for volunteers to help set-up and staff our Pop-Up Shop for the spring Native Tree & Plant Sale. If you’re looking to volunteer your time or you just have a passion for native plants, this is a great opportunity!

When, Where, and What:

Our Pop-Up Shop is located at 31610 N. Almond Road, Libertyville, IL 60048.

We need assistance setting up the Pop-Up Shop on May 14-16 and assistance with the sale on May 17-18 and May 24-25, from 9am-3pm.

Volunteers will help set up equipment, unload inventory, and prepare presale orders for pick-up.

Please note our Pop-Up shop will be in Lake County, IL and we want to be sure you’re comfortable with the following:

  • Able to lift and carry up to 40 pounds repeatedly and push carts filled with trees and shrubs
  • Be comfortable reading plant labels and order forms that use plants’ scientific/Latin names
  • Willing to work outdoors, potentially during inclement weather
  • Able to handle plants gently

To Sign Up:

If you’re interested in volunteering, contact LakeCounty@Openlands.org by Friday, May 10 so we can schedule your shift(s) and provide any additional details.

Free Workshops: Beautiful Landscaping with Native Plants

Openlands is hosting two “Beautiful Landscaping with Native Plants” workshops to introduce the basic concepts of native tree and plant landscaping to anyone looking for some help selecting trees and plants. The workshops are free and will take place on Saturday, April 13 and Saturday, April 27 — both during our online pre-sale period — so you can hear from experts and make the right selections before placing your orders.

Both workshops will be from 11am to 12 noon at REI, 901 N. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills, IL 60061 and no prior registration is necessary.


Two of the region’s leading landscape designers will teach the workshops. On Saturday, April 13 we will hear from with John Mariani of LandServe, and on Saturday, April 27 Dave Eubanks of Eubanks Environmental will be presenting. Participants will learn how to create a strong aesthetic while drawing from an attractive palette of native trees, flowers, and shrubs.

These workshops will be valuable to anyone interested in adding attractive native trees or plants, but who maybe don’t know where to start. Adding native species can not only help beautify your home or garden, but it is also an impactful way everyone can support wildlife and take meaningful action to address climate change, right at home. Native trees and plants are hardy and often require little watering. Their deep roots aid in water purification and rainwater absorption, and some even grow best in areas where water collects or flows. Native plants are also great for any landscape of any size, and there are a wide variety of species to choose from. However, the optimal location for a native plant depends on the species.

Openlands has made it easy to plant native species this year through our Native Tree and Plant Sale. Through the Native Tree and Plant Sale, the public can purchase trees, shrubs, flowers, ferns, and other plants for their homes and properties both online and at an on-site store.

Visit our Pop-Up Shop in Libertyville, Friday-Saturday, May 17-18 and May 24-25, 10am-3pm.


Openlands thanks our presenters for offering their time and to our hosts at REI. For More information please contact LakeCounty@Openlands.org

New Farm Bill Signed Into Law

On December 20, 2018, the President signed into law the new Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is among the most important and comprehensive laws Congress makes. It authorizes the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), crop insurance, urban forestry, and conservation and local food programs.

Overall, the new Farm Bill does many favorable things:

  • Critically important for our communities is that work requirements on supplemental nutrition assistance recipients remain mostly unchanged.
  • Key local food offerings are consolidated into the new Local Agricultural Market Program and given increased and permanently authorized funding.
  • Beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmer supports, which are underutilized in greater Chicago, are consolidated and given permanently increased funding under the new Farmer Opportunities Training and Opportunities Program.
  • The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program has dedicated, increased funding of $5 million in each of the next five years.
  • Harmful exemptions from endangered species laws for agrochemical uses are rejected along with other damaging regulatory rollbacks.
  • Misguided forest management provisions are mostly ignored.

This Farm Bill is a mixed bag for conservation, but there are a few more highlights on the plus side:

  • The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which pays farmers to make improvements that conserve water, reduce erosion, and improve habitat, is increased to more than $2 billion.
  • The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program that permanently protects farmland is increased by 80% (to $450 million) and will allow land trusts to do buy-protect-sell transactions.
  • Regional conservation partnerships are allocated another $50 million (up to $300 million).

However, overall conservation funding remains $5 billion lower than what conservation programs received before 2014. This means that increases to some conservation programs come at the expense of other conservation initiatives. Most notably, this Farm Bill, cuts $800 million (45%) from the Conservation Stewardship Program (“CSP”). CSP is widely regarded as the most effective program for improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and “whole farm” conservation solutions. It is so popular that less than half of farmers who apply for funding currently receive it. After these cuts, only about ¼ of farmer-applicants who want to do comprehensive resource conservation will be funded.

The overall impact from this shift in conservation funding will cost Illinois roughly $14 million per year, according to staff analysis and adjustments of a report by the University of Illinois. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that CSP creates nearly $4 in economic and environmental values for every $1 it costs, leaving Illinois with a net loss of $56 million. Openlands will try to reduce this loss by leading efforts to better utilize Farm Bill resources in Illinois, such as seeking funding for agricultural conservation easements on places like Hoffmann Farm.

Thank you to all of you who made your voice heard in support of SNAP and a conservation-friendly Farm Bill. Learn more about how Openlands is working improve local food systems and protect farmland in our region.