grandfather tree oak people sitting nature connection


Beth Weiner




Beth Weiner 16 March, 2017.

Beth is a guest writer for Sustain DuPage from the Lil’ Green Warrior blog- check out her awesome work!

( 967 words)

The morning is frigid. You knew it would be. You roll out of bed and look at your clock- 8:00 a.m., on the dot. You roll to one side, and the sun is streaming through the window. You’d never know it was 20 degrees out there. You curse yourself silently for volunteering to do outdoor work in Churchill Woods on a frigid March morning. Your word is good though, and so you can’t back out now, especially since there’s a text from Andrew Van Gorp, the head of Sustain DuPage, a person who you respect deeply, blinking on your phone.

So you’re awake. You guzzle coffee, grasping it firmly between your cupped hand as you sip in the morning. You pull on the five layers of clothing you’ve laid out for this morning. The last thing to come on is the hiking boots, the steel-toed wonders you bought last year. You love wearing them, because it makes you feel strong. Like you can change the world. Today, that’s what you’re planning to do. Even if it’s in a small way.

You pile into the car and enter the address that was on the meetup group into your GPS. 22 minutes. Why is it so darn far? You hope you’re going to the right place. You drive, and drive, and drive…why do these streets not look right? You pull into the parking lot, and there’s no one there. Great. Just your luck! Of course you’re in the wrong parking lot. Oh well. You pull out and type in the name of the preserve. “Churchill Woods.” Only four minutes away….that’s not bad.

As you pull in, you can see a line of people behind a car, signing waivers. Wow, there’s actually quite a few people here. That’s great news, because it means you’ll get a lot of work done, but you don’t know ANY of them, because you’re new. It’s also not the greatest thing for you personally, because you’re a bit of an introvert. Oh well, the social atmosphere is really only a plus. You’re here to make a difference.

You fill out a waiver and follow the group, grabbing a pair of loppers. Andrew is explaining to the group how to identify buckthorn, an awful invasive species that grows like a weed, which crowds out light from the roots of the native oak trees. It’s also pointy on the ends, meaning it stabs your clothes. You’re not really dressed properly either, and it’s way colder than you thought it would be. You’ll be cutting away buckthorn and hauling it into piles so that the native oaks and other native species can thrive.

It’s quiet here. It’s quiet, and sunny, and peaceful, despite the group of 20-40 people hacking away at buckthorn. A few conversations pop up, but most people are minding themselves or their nearest neighbor, hard at work in comfortable silence.

The sun streams through the trees, and the peaceful pace of the work is meditative. You would never know that just over the ridge is a busy street. You’re immersed in the peace of the forest preserve. You’re home.

This is Churchill Woods, and you’re here with Sustain DuPage, a local nonprofit that is dedicated to creating a greener, healthier, and more sustainable DuPage County. Churchill Woods Protectors is one of their five mission projects. These five mission projects are designed to touch upon the three pillars of sustainability- people, the environment, and the economy. How does Churchill Woods do this? From a societal perspective, you are empowered with new knowledge about how to care for the environment. You are also surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals and you build a common bond through your hard work. From an environmental perspective, you begin to heal some of the man-made destruction that has been brought onto the natural woodlands here. According to Sustain DuPage’s website, these disturbances include, but aren’t limited to habitat fragmentation, fire suppression, salt pollution, soil erosion, flooding, petroleum pollution…and the list goes on. You may not have contributed directly to these damages, but it feels good to be helping restore the natural habitat by giving native species a chance. Finally, forest preserves actually help boost our economy. The more natural areas we have near our homes and in our communities, the higher our property values.

Churchill Woods is a popular fishing, picnicking, and hiking spot. It is beautiful. As you hack away at buckthorn, your fingers begin to numb, but you don’t really care. Your phone alarm goes off, and unfortunately, you have to go. You scan the woods for your fearless leader, Andrew, who seems to be oblivious to anything except the buckthorn he’s herbiciding so that pesky stuff doesn’t come back. You wave at him and he waves back with a jaunty, perky smile, with a signature bit of sass. You walk with him to the parking lot and talk about how Churchill Woods needs more accessibility for pedestrians  and individuals with physical disabilities. A project for a later date.

He gives you a hug as you tell him you have to go. You feel a bond with the people that you work towards a common cause with. Your fingers are numb, but your heart is warm. For one day, you’ve made a bit of a difference among the sunny oaks of Churchill Woods. The work is far from done, but seeing the glade of buckthorn you’ve cleared is immensely gratifying- at least until next time.

Later that day, you get a text from Andrew- 

Yes, yes, I did. The woods are their own beautiful reward.

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

We set out to improve DuPage County’s Agricultural and Nutritional Literacy, and we did just that. In our 200 sq. ft. garden, we made some really special memories. 

We’ve been given the go-ahead to expand the garden next year, and we are ECSTATIC. We have so many ideas planned. Make sure you sign up for our main E-Newsletter to receive updates about Victory Garden events!

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

Rusty Crayfish are an invasive species. They are also delicious! Many people today propose that we manage invasive species with community wild-harvest in order to bring them into balance with native species.

Watch this mesmerizing video of a Rusty Crayfish in the East Branch of the DuPage River!



Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

American Flag GIF cries for vacant seats

Do you feel that your values aren’t being represented in local government?

Run for office. 

Click on the image below for a PDF describing how YOU can run for local office and which municipal seats will be left vacant in DuPage County, 2017.

The process can begin as early as *September 2016*!

Don’t delay!

(Donations can be made to the Citizen Participation Institute). 

Uncle Sam Wants no Vacant Seats

A HUGE thank you to the Citizen Participation Institute for compiling this list of vacant seats! It’s important for our communities to know that we can become a part of our local political process! The best way to achieve sustainability in DuPage County is to become involved in your local political process and leave no seat vacant!

Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!

By: Andrew Van Gorp  15 June, 2016.

The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit1) Greene Valley Overlook <—Click

This Overlook is the highest point in DuPage County open to the public (Mallard Lake landfill is the actual highest point, but it’s not open to the public yet, for safety reasons). We do think it’s kind of hilarious that the most gorgeous view of DuPage can only be seen from atop DuPage’s second-tallest landfill. However, we also choose to think of the Greene Valley Scenic Overlook as a metaphor for Humanity’s need to climb up to the top of all the destruction we’ve caused this sweet ol’ planet of ours so we can finally gain some much-needed PERSPECTIVE for our collective futures. In this life, we need where we’ve been to get to where we’re goin’. You know? Check out this video we made about the view from the top.


The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit

2) The DuPage River Confluence

We cheated a little bit- this spot isn’t exactly in DuPage. You might be asking yourself, “what exactly is a ‘confluence?” Well, our County actually got it’s name from the DuPage River. (And the River got it’s name from a french fur-trapper whose first name has apparently been lost to history). There are two “Branches” of the DuPage River- the East Branch in the East and the West Branch in the…well, you get the idea. These two rivers flow South through our County and eventually join together. That’s the confluence. (Awwwww, East meets West- Cuuuuuuuuute). The newly-formed DuPage River flows into the Des Plaines River, the Kankakee River, the Illinois River, the Mississippi, and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit

We couldn’t even find a photo online of the Confluence- we had to go out and take one- that’s how much of a little-known treasure this spot is!  Take some time to wade calf deep (at your own risk) on a hot day and contemplate the sacredness of water. We did, and it was awesome.

The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit

3) The Oldest Tree in DuPage 

The oldest tree in DuPage County hatched from its acorn in 1777! To give you a taste of what was going on in DuPage at that time, the proto-country that would later become the United States- was at war…WITH BRITAIN. Yeah. That’s pretty cool. We have trees that were alive during the Revolutionary War, and you can go and TOUCH THEM. We can’t tell you which Bur Oak it is, but we can get you pretty close.

The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit4) The Winfield Mounds

These mounds aren’t naturally occurring, but they are definitely natural wonders. The Winfield Mounds are burial mounds from more than a thousand years ago. These mounds were built by Native Americans as sacred resting places for their family members. The mounds were desecrated in the 1920’s and now lie empty of sacred relics. We’re thankful that this person created a guide on how to get to the mounds, because the way there is (understandably) not widely-published. Consider taking a trip out to the mounds to honor the lives of America’s First Peoples and take a moment to remember the atrocities that were perpetrated here in our region. Perhaps learn more about the cultures of the Prairie Band or Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Nation and where they live today- or perhaps about the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forcibly exiled the remaining Native American inhabitants of DuPage County West of the Mississippi River. This sacred site reminds us that we have much to learn from Native American cultures about how to live sustainably in this place, and that there is still much healing and reconciliation that needs to happen in DuPage County.

The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit

(Photo from

5) The DuPage Waterfall

Fun fact- Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve was not named for the waterfall there, but actually an early Board President whose last name was Waterfall. Ha. Anyway, this waterfall provides tons of fun for the whole family, but we’re pretty sure you’re technically not supposed to play in it. So, obviously we can’t advocate that you do play in it- but on most days there’s no one around to stop someone from playing in it, so, if someone chose to waterfall it up (at their own discretion)…… our point is that you don’t have to drive five hours to visit a waterfall! You can do it right here in DuPage on your day off, or over the weekend, or commit to visiting it every day for a whole month and see what you learn, like spiritually, or something. 


The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit

Photo from

6) The Lakes

You can bring your own kayak/canoe to one of three lakes in DuPage: Silver Lake, Round Meadow Lake, or Mallard Lake. When you bring your K/C to one of those three lakes, you must purchase an annual Forest Preserve Permit and an annual Illinois Department of Natural Resources Water Usage stamp and then it’s smooth sailing (pun intended) from there. If you don’t want to purchase these certificates, you also have the option to rent a boat at Silver Lake or Herrick Lake instead. (If you rent a kayak/canoe from the County you have to wear a Life Vest no matter what your age). 

The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit

7) The Rivers

Before you ask- yes, this photo was taken on the West Branch. You can enter/exit the East Branch, West Branch, or Salt Creek anywhere in any forest preserve, except for at the Oak Meadows Golf Course. If you K/C the DuPage Rivers or Salt Creek, you only need the annual IDNR Water Usage Stamp (not the FP Permit- $—>$aved)! The DuPage County Forest Preserves offer river access points at six different places at the bottom of this linked page, in a chart. On a river/creek, if you are 14 or older, you have to have a life jacket in your watercraft. If you are 13 or younger, you also have to be wearing that life jacket while you are in the watercraft.  

***A Note on Dams: There was no readily available (updated) information on dams in DuPage anywhere- just mentions that they exist and that they might be fatal to kayakers and canoeists(!). (#frustrating, #icantevenrightnow, #YouCanActuallyFollowSustainDuPageOnTwitter). So we went ahead and did some research. There are four dams left in DuPage County, and you should probably know about them. There are signs along the rivers to warn ‘yakkers and ‘noeists about the dams. The dams create a unique current that is dangerous, so pay attention to where you’re going and always plan out your trip before you leave your house. This is a good map of waterways, albeit a little outdated (2007)– we’re pretty sure the only dams that are currently remaining from this map are the Graham Center Dam, Old Oak Dam, and the Grace Mill Dam on the Salt Creek and the Fawell Dam on the West Branch. (Special thanks to the Conservation Foundation for clearing up which dam’ dams have yet to be removed from the rivers).

The Seven Natural Wonders of DuPage You Have To Visit

7) The Largest Prairie

If you are visiting the Oldest Tree, you might as well visit the Largest Prairie too! (They’re both at West Chicago Prairie). Did you know that .0001 percent of Illinois’ original prairie still remains today? (With less and less every day). Yeah. Imagine we were saying that about another ecosystem like the Amazon. Now consider that prairies were once one of the best sequesterers of carbon in the world. DuPage County hosts a few small fragments of prairie that have never been fully destroyed! West Chicago Prairie is our largest prairie, and we’re lucky- because it hosts 126 acres of remnant prairie. Without this prairie in DuPage County being protected, several species could (and probably would) go extinct forever. There are no picnic areas, dog parks, or other such amenities. If you want to see what our homeland looked like thousands of years ago, visit the West Chicago Prairie. But tell someone where you are going before you go- it’s a really big space by our suburban standards!

***A Note on ADA Accessibility.

Sustain DuPage is passionate about accessibility for the entire community to all the natural wonders of our County. The graph below comes from a Visitor Guide buried deep in a PDF linked on the DuPage County Forest Preserve’s website- so we wanted to make sure to repost it here so that no one misses it!

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Happy DuPaging Y’all!

  Sustain DuPage can’t operate without your support. Find out here all the ways you can involve yourself!