Dave Stanley helped clear buckthorn from Perkins Woods. The trees were cut to a height of two or three feet and the branches hauled to the streets’ edges, where a wood chipper picked them up a few days later. Herbicide was applied to the stumps to prevent regrowth.      Photo by Virginia Mann

The silvery sunshine, quiet wind and 50-degree temperature on Jan. 12 made the day seem more like fall than winter, as nearly 40 volunteers – many of them nearby residents – cut nearly 400 buckthorn trees back to spindly stumps and hauled the branches to the edges of Perkins Woods.

Owned and managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Perkins Woods occupies a square block in northwest Evanston between Grant and Colfax streets along Ewing Avenue.

Libby Hill, steward of Perkins Woods, said she estimated there were about 1,000 buckthorns – an aggressive invasive species of trees that chokes native trees and shrubs – in the woods.

The small woodland with tall green canopy, nesting birds and spring wildflowers is a beloved space in northwest Evanston.

“I just appreciate the trees – and this neighborhood,” said David Stanley, who said he moved here from Chicago about three years ago.

Many of the Saturday volunteers said they had attended earlier meetings to oppose the Forest Preserve District’s proposal to replace the 5-foot asphalt path with a 10-foot concrete one and expressed satisfaction with the resolution: a 5-foot path of crushed granite. Others said they had participated in the annual garlic mustard pull – another day of routing invasive species from the woods.

“My [college graduate] son still knows what garlic mustard looks like,” said Sarah Flax.

Without its leaves or berries, a buckthorn tree can be hard to spot. Karen Taira, a nearby resident who is education director at the Ecology Center, showed a visitor the beginnings of thorns along the end of the branches and the telltale “eye” or lenticel on the outer bark. She was one of a group who a few days before had sprayed the 400 trees with yellow paint, to save volunteers from having to examine each tree.

With volunteers from the neighborhood and Evanston Township High School, hot chocolate donated by The Spice House and breakfast pastries by Great Harvest, the pseudo-spring cleanup was a neighborhood affair.

“People love Perkins Woods,” said Ms. Hill. She added that Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin was there in spirit. “He would be here, but he’s in Viet Nam with his daughter,” she said.

The buckthorn was removed from the southeast quadrant, creating a clearing into the taller native trees and plans.

Volunteer Suzi Berkson said, “It’s like Macbeth – the woods have moved.”