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Restore Will County grants support volunteer work

A man and woman point at something while standing next to a bonfire.
(Photo by Chad Merda)

A healthier Will County is one of the goals of The Nature Foundation of Will County, and one of the many ways it works to achieve that goal is by awarding Restore Will County grants to people who have dedicated themselves to restoration projects in the preserves.

Since 2017, more than $19,000 in Restore Will County grants has been awarded to volunteer site stewards and Forest Preserve employees, said Tara Neff, executive director of the Foundation. This year, three site stewards were awarded grants, and funds were also given to restoration crew leader Barbara Sherwood, who uses the funds to support restoration work done by volunteers.

Site stewards can apply for grants of up to $500 each year to aid in their restoration projects. A committee consisting of Neff, Forest Preserve Executive Director Ralph Schultz and Forest Preserve Director of Conservation Programs Andrew Hawkins makes decisions on awarding the grants.

The funds can be used for most anything stewards need to complete work at their sites, Neff said. It can pay for trees, shrubs, plant seed, plant plugs, herbicide, equipment and supplies. Stewards can also use the grant money to pay for trainings and certifications necessary for them to complete their projects.  

She said she is able to use the grant money for supplies and equipment for site stewards who did not apply for grants of their own or to give addition supplies and equipment to site stewards who discover through the course of their work that they have additional or unanticipated needs.

Restoration work performed by site stewards falls within the District’s general management plans for the preserves where they do their work. Sherwood said the grants allow the District to complete restoration projects more quickly than they otherwise would.

“It allows more work to be done in a timelier fashion,” she said.

In some cases, the District hosts habitat management mornings in conjunction with the work the site stewards do as the need arises. The stewards also work independently on their restoration projects as well.

“Their work takes some of the burden off of natural resources,” she said.

In addition to allowing the Forest Preserve to accelerate the timelines on some restoration projects, Neff said the grants allow the public a way to work to protect our habitats and make our environment healthier.

“It creates opportunities for the everyday citizen to be involved in the work that we do,” she said.

The work the site stewards do in the preserves helps ensure successes in restoration management and also that positive outcomes will continue on these lands, Neff said.

And it’s not just the volunteers who reap the benefits. We all do.

“They are making a difference to the landscape, so they are making a healthier environment,” she said.

For site stewards, the Restore Will County grants are a boost both in funding for their restoration work and in the confidence they have in knowing their work is meaningful, Sherwood said.   

“It empowers them to do more and take ownership of the work they do at their sites.”


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