Weather Updates

North Lawndale students enjoy summer project

Miriah Burns (front) North Lawndale grad JameshDavis North Lawndale senior harvest native seeds MidewNational Tallgrass Prairie during pilot program for

Miriah Burns (front), a North Lawndale grad, and Jamesha Davis, a North Lawndale senior, harvest native seeds at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie during the pilot program for summer employment of youth. | Dale Bowman~For Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 34239242
tmspicid: 12543647
fileheaderid: 5697799

Updated: August 30, 2012 6:25AM

Steve Paglia picked up a broken crayfish claw from the dried, old road bed as we walked out Wednesday.

Change comes to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the nearly 20,000-acre site at Wilmington.

Some change is seasonal — the last time I was in that section water covered much of it. Some change is in a mind-set — that’s why the National Forest Foundation-North Lawndale College Prep Midewin Summer Crew was clipping seed heads of bulrushes.

The seeds will be used in restoration efforts at Midewin.

Young people gathering seeds seemed wonderfully symbolic.

The NFF, which has Midewin in its Treasured Landscapes campaign, tried to grow something with the inaugural crew from North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago.

‘‘It is really important to connect young people, especially the underserved,’’ said Bill Possiel, NFF president, in a phone interview. ‘‘It made a lot of sense.’’

On many levels.

A small percentage of the millions of people within an hour of Midewin even know the first national tallgrass prairie is nearby. Far fewer have been there. On that level alone, it makes sense to connect with youth, what Possiel calls ‘‘building a constituency and a diverse one.’’

‘‘We have to reach people where they reside, and 87 percent are urban or suburban,’’ he said.

In assessing her six-week stint, Jade Pillow, from the West Loop, gave a graphic example, ‘‘This is totally different than what I see every day, besides the zoo.’’

‘‘As a tool for teaching, they can see how science relates to what we do out there,’’ said Skye Nicholson, science department chair at North Lawndale.

Nicholson and Paglia were the faculty on the project.

Paglia wanted it to ‘‘give a science education, not just, ‘Here’s a shovel, dig.’ ’’

Although they did dig, whack and plant. One challenge of the inaugural program was doing outside work in a historic heat wave.

On one side, they helped attack curly dock, teasel, reed canary grass and cattails, but they also studied and learned.

Rick Short, recreation program manager at Midewin, said they deliberately switched up the work to hold interest. They pulled crews off the fields early many days to beat the heat.

‘‘We wanted to get work done but wanted it to be a learning process for the kids, too,’’ he said.

By all accounts, the pilot program worked.

Asked one thing she learned, Caprisha Treadwell said, ‘‘Knowing it is not easy to keep a place like this in order, especially in drought season.’’

What Treadwell, from Englewood and headed to Iowa State to study environmental engineering, most remembers are cows following them while they measured grass to see why birds choose certain areas to nest and the historical sites, especially the cemeteries. Midewin was formerly the Joliet Arsenal.

Midewin’s historical side also stuck with Pillow, who most remembered the ammunition bunkers and climbing to the top of one.

On another public-perception level, I asked Possiel how the possibility of bison reintroduction was going. He said they’re going through the steps, and, if there are no hitches and it’s deemed feasible, bison could go 21/2 years from now.

‘‘That is our goal,’’ he said. ‘‘That would help increase the visibility of the place.’’

And love for it.

As their time at Midewin ended last week, Treadwell gave a last hug to the big bur oak at Prairie Creek Woods.

‘‘This is the future of conservation,’’ Possiel said. ‘‘We have protected so many of the pristine places; now we have a chance to restore these unique places.’’

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.