Beth Weiner

 

 

 

 

Beth Weiner 19 May, 2017.

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

(496 words)

The morning is clear, warm, and bright, and the volunteers gather in the parking lot of Churchill Woods Forest Preserve. The chatter is light, bright, and joyful: wildflowers, the weather, and the day’s mission: trash pickup on a hike through the preserve.

It’s a leisurely stroll through the woods, peppered with facts about the area and wildlife from Andrew Van Gorp, Sustain DuPage’s fearless leader, president, and founder. Something about the quiet of the morning makes it feel previous, sacred almost. Some volunteers are more eager than others, one dives into the river to pluck out an abandoned tire. A few grab bottles from off the side of the trail.

The group comes to a riffle, a stretch of rock meant to improve the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, along the East Branch of the DuPage River. The sun sparkles on its surface, and you would never know that this ecosystem is in trouble at first glance. Andrew stops the group, and excitedly explains, “If you look closely, you can see the carp spawning—it is the absolute most prehistoric thing you will ever see…imagine that these carp have been doing this for millions and millions of years…” and sure enough, there they are: at first glance, it just looks like a bunch of slashes near the surface. As you look closer, and approach the bank, you can see them: group after group of fish flopping around in a frenzy. These carp may be invasive, but they sure are magnificent.

The group’s focus is broken by Andrew again: “should I catch one?” The group stares at him, blinking. Andrew proceeds to roll up his pants and wade into the river, and one volunteer tentatively follows, barefoot but determined to follow along.

Andrew misses the first time. He plunges his hands into the icy water and the fish slips right through his fingers and his legs. The second time, a series of splashes and squeals ensues, and Andrew emerges, victorious, an enormous, mammoth carp in his hands, it’s belly sagging. She’s huge, she’s magnificent, and she definitely doesn’t belong on land.

Andrew is undeterred, even when the fish drops its eggs all over his leg. He eloquently describes to the group the reason the carp has dropped her eggs (in a last-ditch effort to reproduce), the difference between the way carp reproduce and the way humans reproduce, and the evolutionary purpose behind it. He describes that the fish outcompetes native fish for resources. He offers the fish to the volunteers to hold, and one agrees, hands trembling. There is something about that connection that takes their breath away.

This is what you will find when you volunteer at Churchill Woods, or in any way with Sustain DuPage. You will find the peace that only nature and the outdoors can bring. You will find connection with others and with the natural world that is so often robbed from us in our breakneck, helter-skelter society. You will learn, and you will be shocked and surprised, and you will walk away with a smile on your face, knowing you have made a difference.

Join us.

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

 

 

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!

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portrait

 

 

 

Andrew Van Gorp 29 November, 2016.

(800 words)

2013: A young, naive, freshly-graduated Andrew Van Gorp was appointed to a three year term as an Environmental Commissioner for the Village of Glen Ellyn, swearing an oath to uphold and protect the United States Constitution. In brief, he thought he was hot sh*t. He’s had many small wins over his term, but autumn of 2016 brought his first BIG WIN.

As he entered the volunteer Commission he voiced to his fellow commissioners the one thousand project ideas that he hoped to achieve during his three-year tenure. As you all know, he’s a Sustainable Community Development geek.

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One of those ideas was that he thought Glen Ellyn needed more bus infrastructure, specifically heated bus shelters. It may not seem consequential to the uninitiated, but bus shelters are VERY CRUCIAL. Here’s why.

SCENARIO:

Install a heated bus shelter. When it’s raining, bus-riders are protected. When it’s snowing, bus-riders are kept alive with warmth. This creates a non-hell-like rider experience. More people decide to ride the bus.

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A photo of 60 people and the amount of road space they take up based on different modes of transportation.

Roads become less congested. Quality of life improves with less traffic. City planners no longer need to beg for yet another lane-widening project, which would actually just add to road congestion anyway. Less impermeable surfaces are needed. With less traffic, the air becomes less fatal for local neighborhoods to breathe. More groundwater is absorbed directly into the ground and streams begin to rebound with less salt runoff.

So really, if you care about air health, water health, soil health, animal health, and/or human health, then you should definitely care about bus shelters too. Especially since the Village of Glen Ellyn has no heated bus shelters (and barely any bus shelters to begin with #notsayinjustsayin). A young and enthusiastic Andrew Van Gorp asked at an EC meeting if we could change that, way back in 2013.

The Village put Andrew in contact with PACE. PACE let the Village know that the Village had bought a bus shelter many years previously and never installed it- so it was sitting in PACE storage. Andrew asked if maybe we could… install it… since… we… had… already… paid for it?

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A great idea! We met with PACE and went through a list of best intersections. Andrew was really pulling for a spot on Roosevelt, since thousands of people pass through our Village every day and watch as people on the side of the road are forced to stand unprotected from the cold, wind, and/or precipitation at multiple stops. He tried to make the argument that it might appear to many commuters that Glen Ellyn doesn’t really care much about the planet or its Villagers by not providing necessary infrastructure for active transportation.

Unfortunately, the sidewalk is designed right up to the curb in many places along Roosevelt (anyone who’s ever walked there knows how horrifying of an experience it is as semi-trucks zoom by within a few inches of your body and you are just praying to the Good Lord Jesus that you don’t trip on the quilt-work of uneven brick, broken cement, and puckered asphalt). Since the path’s so close to the curb, and the streetlight posts are posted in the center of the “walking path” there is no space for a bus shelter. Bummer.

Andrew asked if PACE might consider putting a bus shelter the next street over to the South (on Taft Avenue running parallel to Roosevelt) so that people waiting for the bus didn’t have to breathe in the micro-particulate matter of uncombusted fossil fuels from the motor fumes of Roosevelt Road. He thought, why should making the choice that’s better for the planet come at the cost of adenocarcinoma? PACE said they don’t track the hazard of particulate matter exposure for their customers along their bus routes and that it would be too costly to place new bus shelters in low-particulate areas that might be slightly off of their regular route. Bummer.

Ultimately, we decided on an intersection at the College of DuPage campus. After all, increasing student ridership would fall in line with national investment trends. And so, in September of this year, the bus shelter was installed. Who knows? Maybe a strapped college student will be protected from the rain while waiting to be driven home some day and think, “hey, this isn’t so bad” and become a lifelong bus rider. 

I did that. My three-year-crusade that started as a dream for a Village-wide installation plan for heated bus shelters shriveled down into installing a bus shelter that we’d already bought and never used. Someday, once I’m a Village Trustee, I can rev back up the ol’ heated-bus-shelter-near-every-major-intersection gag. But for now, I’m pretty damned proud of myself and thankful that the Village of Glen Ellyn empowered me with the ability to make a change by serving as an Environmental Commissioner.

LESSON: Never doubt the power you have to change the world. If you give a sh*t, if you show up to meetings, if you do what you say you’re going to do, you can do anything!

Rock on DuPagers.

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!