Oak Trees and shadows at Cornelia Lunt Park near  the lakefront.                                                                                   RoundTable photo

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October will be celebrated as Oak Awareness Month for the first time this year in Evanston and throughout the state of Illinois. The celebration aims to raise awareness of the importance of the oaks and oak ecosystems that have been a defining feature of our region for hundreds of years.

According to Chicago Wilderness, a regional conservation alliance, “Oak trees are considered keystone species in the Chicago Wilderness Region, underpinning the biological diversity of some of our most crucial ecosystems. They also provide more than $2 billion worth of flood control and other water management services. Despite their importance, only 17% of Northeast Illinois’ original oak ecosystems remain, and these swaths are declining due to intense combined pressure from a number of threats, which include urban development, invasive plants, diseases, and a changing climate. Chicago Wilderness recently launched an Oak Ecosystems Recovery Plan in collaboration with Lake County Forest Preserves and the Morton Arboretum to “preserve, restore, and expand oak ecosystems across the region.”

In Evanston, a remnant of a formerly vast oak-hickory-elm-basswood-green ash forest called the Big Woods survives in Perkins Woods, and other old oaks dominate the surrounding neighborhood and one of our lakefront parks. Native oaks support more than 500 species of moths and butterflies, says entomologist Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home.” These in turn provide food for the millions of birds that migrate through Evanston every year. Like other trees, oaks also reduce flooding, clean the air and water, provide shade, cut energy use, and beautify our parks.

The City of Evanston has stepped up planting of oaks in parks and along our streets, but these trees need care to become established and thrive. Evanston TreeKeepers and the Ladd Arboretum Committee are leading the OAKtober celebration in Evanston in collaboration with Citizens’ Greener Evanston, the Chicago Region Trees Initiative and the City of Evanston to call attention to what citizens can do to care for these public trees and to plant oaks on private lands.

As part of the month-long program, the Evanston North Shore Bird Club, LakeDance and the Evanston Public Library also are collaborating on the dedication celebration for the new Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, where native oak trees, primarily bur oaks, will help to anchor a newly planted habitat.

Upcoming OAKtober Events

Tree Walk – Oct. 42-3:30 p.m. on Oct. 4 at Perkins Woods and nearby neighborhood. Participants will meet and learn about old oaks and their role in the support of wildlife during this walk led by two local experts: Libby Hill, steward of Perkins Woods and author of “The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History”; and Judy Pollock, project manager with Living Habitats, a landscape architecture, ecological services, and environmental planning firm, and founding president of the Bird Conservation Network. The meeting place is Grant Street at Bennett Avenue. OAKtober Celebration – Oct. 17• 9 a.m.–Noon on Oct. 17 at the Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. City of Evanston Forester Paul D’Agostino and members of the Ladd Arboretum Committee are sponsoring this family-friendly tree walk celebrating oak trees and their importance to the community. The morning’s activi-ties will culminate in planting oak trees on an Arboretum site envisioned as a future oak savanna.Bird Song: A Celebration• 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary.  Community members are invited to celebrate this new sanctuary designed as a safe haven for migrating birds. Music and dance performances by Evanston children and adults will also be featured   – including drummers from Belize, songs from Mexico and Haiti, and gospel music from the American South.