In the Field: Working Side by Side with Chicago’s Youth on the Prairie

Earlier this month I traveled to Illinois’ Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie for the first time. At 6 am I arrived at Chicago’s North Lawndale Preparatory High School (NCLP). I met the summer work crew students and two summer crew leaders as well as two of NLCP’s science teachers. We then made our way through the bustling morning traffic commute to Midewin, about an hour south of the city.

Midewin Youth Planting

It was hard not to be impressed by:

  • how fast the students sprung into work and action upon our arrival at the Midewin,
  • the dedication and leadership of the two crew leaders and,
  • everyone’s impactful work ethic.

Although I did not have a chance to speak to each student individually I did get some quality time with two outstanding young women who are both on their way to college at the end of August. I asked them what their favorite job thus far was at the site – they said was the day they built a road – that instant gratification to seeing your work completed.

They also enjoy the cameraderie and the team support from each other to get the project work done. They expressed their enthusiasm for being part of the larger restoration effort and to be able to come back to the city each evening and share their stories to friends and family.

Midewin Volunteers Planting Grass

I got the sense they take great pride in what they are accomplishing over the course of six weeks at Midewin.

This day was a joint volunteer day made possible by the Exelon Foundation . 17 Exelon employees and college interns worked alongside the NLCP’s youth crew and Forest Service staff. The Exelon Foundation, through a three year partnership with the NFF, is funding the summer work crew program at Midewin.

Volunteers at Midewin

We planted more than 5,460 grasses and sedges at South Prairie Creek Outwash Plain. The planting took place where a road was recently removed as part of the NFF’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences site work .

This program means a lot to the students, the school, and the teachers - it is more than a summer job. The experience fosters young professionals, promots a rewarding work ethic, and provides a sense of accomplishment of being part of a larger restoration effort. Through introducing the students into a new world of natural resources, we may see them leading summer work crews at Midewin in the years to come.

Click here if you'd like to support continued restoration efforts at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

Group of Volunteers at Midewin



NFF Joins Montana Discovery Foundation in Helena, Montana

Thanks to support from the NFF Matching Awards Program , the Montana Discovery Foundation is helping the smallest of creatures on a Montana National Forest.

Citizen science teams are monitoring daily temperatures in both air and water across four watersheds in the Helena and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests. This data will be useful for monitoring stream ecosystems to determine species distribution, abundance and productivity.

Macro-invertebrate’s life cycles are tied to temperature thresholds , so a correlation between air and water temperatures at specific sites will provide data for forest scientists to incorporate in their annual monitoring report used to determine range schedules for grazing allotments on these watersheds and as a reference during the three-year review of the 1987 Forest Monitoring Plan.

NFF Conservation Awards Associate Zia Maumenee and NFF Summer Intern Elias Toon had the opportunity to help the teams out for the day this July. See some photos from their day out of the office below:

NFF Intern Elias
NFF Intern Elias Toon take a moment to enjoy the view.
NFF's Zia
NFF Conservation Awards Associate Zia Maumenee ready for the day.
Field Crew in Forest
girl surveying in forest
volunteers working in forest stream
volunteers in forest stream


If you like to help us support more restoration projects click here.

Eight of My Favorite Wilderness Areas in California

Vance Russell Photo

Vance Russell is the NFF’s California Director and has lived in the state for 15 years.

Travel in California and you will experience diverse Wilderness areas spanning coast to alpine and desert to montane. T here are 149 wilderness areas in California ranging in size from six acres to 3.1 million. They cover nearly 15 million acres—roughly 15 percent of the state.

It was hard to limit this list to eight. I skipped a few places I love such as the Yolla-Bolly-Middle Eel (how can you not like a place with that name) spanning the central valley to north coast and the Mokelumne, Carson-Iceberg and Emigrant Wildernesses in the Sierra. Even the virtually unknown Sanhedrin and Yuki in the Mendocino National Forest are well worth a visit.

You’ll notice the Wilderness areas on my list do not include those on National Parks or Bureau of Land Management Land. While they are too beautiful and unique places, I chose to focus this list on National Forest Wilderness areas. 

Although I’ve enjoyed visiting every single wilderness in California, here’s a list of my favorites:

John Muir Wilderness (Sierra and Inyo National Forests) —Dominated by multiple ragged and soaring granite peaks, including Mt. Whitney the highest in the continental US, this Wilderness encompasses everything John Muir stood for and loved in the Sierra Nevada: wildness, climbing, glaciers, wildlife and solitude. I t’s my number 1 because I got engaged on one of the peaks just north of Whitney. What’s not to like about that?

John Muir Wilderness
Photo by George Wuerthner


White Mountains Wilderness (Inyo National Forest) —The White Mountains are one of the largest and highest desert mountain ranges in the country. The Wilderness is home to the world’s oldest living tree, the bristlecone pine, but habitat ranges from desert scrub to alpine. This is a place to seek solitude, escape crowds, and stargaze to the heavens.

White Mountains Wilderness
Photo by Peter Druschke



Mt. Shasta Wilderness (Shasta-Trinity National Forest) —Mt. Shasta dominates the skyline for hundreds of miles in northern California. Below the multiple glaciers on the mountain are volcanic activity and massive fir and pine forests. Many come here to climb the peak but others come to simply enjoy the view.

Mt. Shasta Wilderess
Photo by George Wuerthner



Ventana Wilderness (Los Padres National Forest) —ranging from the spectacular Big Sur Coast in the west to oak woodlands on the east side, the Wilderness is tremendously biodiverse . Steep and rugged beauty feature the coast mountains and include many large redwoods, the tallest tree on earth.

Ventana Wilderness
Photo by Patrick Bailey



Trinity Alps Wilderness (Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity National Forest) —Trinity Alps is the first place I saw a bear in California and one of the first California Wilderness areas I visited.  Uncrowded and with dozens of lakes , the Trinity Alps feature the Salmon and Trinity Rivers, a superb place to fish, camp and never see another soul.

Trinity Alps Wilderness
Photo by Ken Hallock



Desolation Wilderness (Eldorado National Forest) —Desolation is where I go when I want to be in Sierra Granite and high alpine lakes in a hurry . The quickest access is only 90 minutes from my home. Close to Tahoe and many urban areas, it can be crowded. It is the nation’s most visited wilderness but a permit system has greatly helped with visitorship. Looking for a permit for your next public lands activity? Visit

Desolation Wilderness
Photo by George Wuerthner


San Gabriel Wilderness (Angeles National Forest) —Where else can you be drinking champagne and eating caviar with fabulous stars in Los Angeles one moment, and then walking near a herd of bighorn sheep in sparse conifer forest the next? Surprisingly uncrowded, this wilderness offers dramatic scenery and a diverse wildlife close to the Angeles urban wilderness.

Friends of the Angeles


Siskiyou Wilderness (Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest) —Sasquatch lives here. Or so they say. What more could you want in a Wilderness? Siskiyou’s lush forest in the farthest reaches of wet northwestern California harbors special species. On your next visit, see the world’s largest concentration of lily species, the rare and cool Brewer’s spruce and highest diversity of conifers on the planet.

Siskiyou Wilderness
Photo by Lee Webb


Click here to help ensure California's Wilderness Areas and those across the nation stay healthy for generations to come.


A Treasured Spring in Florida

Silver Glen Springs is truly a gem.

Bounded on the north by the Ocala National Forest, the “run” is a 0.6 mile stretch of crystal-clear water, fed from a first-magnitude springs. Not only is Silver Glen Springs a warm-water refuge for manatees, but it is also home to alligators, and many different fish and birds.

Silver Glen Springs 2_USFS.jpg

People travel from Orlando, Gainesville, Daytona and beyond to enjoy swimming, fishing, boating and camping in this special place.

Silver Glen Springs is governed by many different local, state and federal agencies and is a source of controversy due to its popularity.

Through our Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences conservation campaign, the National Forest Foundation has pulled together the boating community, conservation interests and governmental stakeholders in the first-ever collaborative effort focused on Silver Glen Springs.

The Working Group is nearing completion of a management plan that expresses the shared vision of the group, and a Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies to show their commitment to the joint plan.

Silver Glen Springs_USFS.jpg

The National Forest Foundation is grateful to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Florida Gas Transmission for supporting the NFF’s facilitation of the Working Group.

If you would like to support further collaboration and restoration efforts on the Ocala National Forest, click here.