National Forest Foundation

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North Lawndale College Prep: From the City to the Prairie

“It’s like a wilderness out here.”

These were some of the first words overheard as the crew from North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago disembarked for their first day of work at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The crew of eight students, two student mentors and a faculty leader was hired by the National Forest Foundation to work on projects at the US Forest Service unit located 50 miles southwest of Chicago.

“As part of the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes campaign, we have made it a priority to connect urban residents and youth to our spectacular National Forest System,” said National Forest Foundation’s President Bill Possiel. “Thanks to a generous donor, we were able to give a team of high school youth from the Chicago area the chance to help transform Midewin, while they gain a better appreciation for our forests and grasslands.”

During the six week program the National Forest Foundation North Lawndale College Prep High School crew will plant native species on prairie restoration projects, work on the development of new recreation facilities and monitoring grassland bird habitat among other projects.

The students, who are all recent graduates, were inspired to be involved in the project by an environmental science class they took. They’re concern about the environment was heightened as they learned that some of them live in food deserts and they realized the lack of green space in their own neighborhoods. “This experience has been great for me because I got to do hands on activities with the environment and it opened my eyes to the beautiful wildlife” says Joy Carpenter, one of the Crew Members.

In 2011 Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie was named to be part of National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes campaign. The focus of the campaign is to restore forests and restore Americans connection to these public lands. The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is an 18,500 acre piece of land carved out of the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant located about ten miles south of Joliet, Illinois. Among the purposes of Midewin as stated by the creating legislation is to restore native habitats, provide opportunities for environmental education and provide opportunities for outdoor recreation.

“Having the National Forest Foundation North Lawndale College Prep High School crew working at the Midewin is a great opportunity for all. It provides opportunities for Chicago youth to experience the great outdoors and helps the US Forest Service to make important connections into Chicago” according to Wade Spang Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie Supervisor.