Calvin (left) and Dean Lomax hard at work on the newly installed paths in Perkins Woods. Photos by Mary Mumbrue

Only a sign – “Habitat Management ~ Best Practices in Action” – gave any indication of all the activity that was taking place in Cook County Forest Preserve District’s Perkins Woods on Oct. 13. Located between and Colfax and Grant streets and Ewing and Bennett avenues, this 7.5-acre woodland is what is left of what was once an extensive forest.

This bright, sunny Saturday found a number of volunteers and members of the Perkins Woods steering committee working on the sides of the 5-foot, crushed granite network of paths recently installed to replace the dilapidated asphalt paths. The new material is permeable and attractive and looks as if it belongs in the woods. In the coming seasons, the Perkins Woods steering committee will be able to observe the paths’ durability and see how well the crushed granite resists erosion.

The team of volunteers raked the soil, planted grass seed and then covered it over with many bales of hay. Covering the grass seed can lock in moisture to keep it from drying out so it can sprout more successfully.

Site volunteer Libby Hill says she notices a real sense of ownership of the Woods among the residents of Evanston. She has been the official steward of Perkins Woods since 1991.

Ms. Hill points out some of the features of this postage-stamp-size wilderness. There is the ephemeral vernal pond, which, fed by snowmelt and rain, appears in spring. Though for a time it attracts wood ducks and mallards and thirsty birds, the pond usually dries up by sometime in June. This year it lasted much longer. The Woods is a stopover for many species of migrating birds, and in spring it is not unusual for a visitor to come upon a group of birdwatchers trying to spot them.

Over a period of years, various groups of volunteers have met to help rid the woods of invasive non-native plants. May 5, 2013, was the 21st annual Garlic Mustard Pull, a workday to help rid the woods of this harmful intruder. As chief competitor to the Woods’ native grasses and wildflowers, garlic mustard threatens to rob them of space, water, light and nutrients.

Volunteers have also worked tirelessly on removing buckthorn and other invasive species. Their efforts mean visitors can count on seeing many wildflowers as they are walking the paths in April and May.

Among the volunteers who transformed the path as they worked from the morning into the early afternoon on Oct. 13 were Nancy Weeks Singham, Barb Mitchell, Jamie Tuttle, Paul Williams, Sarah Flax, Karen Taira and her sons Calvin and Dean Lomax, Jason Weckstein, Stacey Weckstein and sons Benji and Jonah  Weckstein, Tom Klitzkie, Libby Hill and Evan McGinley.

Calvin and Dean Lomax and Benji and Jonah Weckstein worked at a variety of jobs, from raking to spreading grass seed and maneuvering a wheelbarrow loaded with straw bundles. Ms. Hill emphasized the importance of children’s playing and volunteering in Perkins Woods, as they will become the advocates of the Woods for the next generation.

On Nov. 4 the Cook County Forest Preserve built a split rail fencing – not around the perimeter of the woods – but at the entrances, to discourage vehicle traffic.

On Nov. 5 a kiosk was installed at the corner of Grant Street and Bennett Avenue, intended to be informative and educational for the children, families and others who walk, jog or run through and around Perkins Woods.

Anyone wishing to join the stewards for the next workday at Perkins Woods, may contact Libby Hill at libbyhill@comcast.net.