Think globally, act locally: we have heard the advice for years, but in recent months, it has taken on a special urgency. 

That may be what has brought out so many members of the community in sweltering August, frigid February, and muddy March to cut buckthorn, pull garlic mustard, and plant. It is all part of the Evanston North Shore Channel Habitat Project, an effort to create a healthy bird-friendly habitat along stretches of the channel banks and in steppingstone sites between the channel and lakefront.

This initiative to restore and create more natural areas on public lands got a boost last year when the City of Evanston received a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chi-Cal Rivers Fund. The two-year grant, matched in part by hundreds of hours of community volunteer effort, has helped to support plantings in the Ladd Arboretum, Twiggs and Harbert Parks, and a demonstration garden in front of the Civic Center.

The project was inspired in part by the Clark Street Beach Bird Sanctuary, which opened in 2015, and by Mayor Tisdahl’s 2016 commitment to expanding a butterfly habitat. The channel project also helps to move the community closer to an ambitious goal promoted by Citizens’ Greener Evanston: to certify the City as National Wildlife Federation Community Habitat.

Work in urban areas like ours is not exactly restoration. Some landscape managers call it “habitat regeneration.” The channel-side lands in particular have been highly disturbed by construction going back well over a hundred years. What is now the Ladd Arboretum, for example, was once wet prairie and marshy woods, and the channel is an entirely artificial waterway. After World War II, the site even housed barracks for families of returning GIs.

According to project advisor Judy Pollock,  a bird conservation expert, the goal of this project is not to “re-create high-quality native ecosystems, but rather improve upon manmade environments by intentionally integrating native species that in particular support migratory birds.” The aim, she says, is to “create a habitat that is sustainable without extensive maintenance, and that will have a naturalized rather than manicured look.”

As new plants grow in, and flowers and flowering shrubs replace a wall of dense prickly buckthorn, these areas will be more attractive for people, too. You do not have to be a birdwatcher to benefit from more attractive green areas. Research has shown over and over that being in a natural green area helps relieve stress and improve health. And that is something we could all use more of these days.

Evanston North Shore Channel Habitat Project 2017 accomplishments:

• more than 100 community members volunteered, including  groups from Y.O.U., Northwestern University, the Boy Scouts and the YMCA

• 685 hours of volunteer effort

• invasive shrubs and trees cleared from more than 1,000 feet of channel banks

• 197 trees and shrubs and hundreds of wildflowers and grasses planted

• new Civic Center Demonstration Garden established

• many piles of weeds pulled!

You can help by volunteering, donating, or simply spreading the word about the value of natural areas like these. Find out more at or get in touch at

Plantings Follow Three Principles

Layered structure: There is a mix of tall trees, understory trees, shrubs, and wildflowers and grasses.

Diversity:  Different species provide what birds need at different seasons (from caterpillars as plants leaf out in the spring to berries and seeds during fall migration).

Density:  So birds have places to nest and hide.

Upcoming Work Days

April 7, 10 a.m.-noon, Harbert Park—Invasive clearing near McDaniel and Lee.

 May 12, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Chicago River Day – Clean up at the Ladd Arboretum and Twiggs and Harbert parks in partnership with Friends of the Chicago River. Planting at the Ladd Arboretum in the afternoon. Sign-up through Friends at or contact us at

 Wendy Pollock is a member of the North Shore Channel Habitat Project.

Wendy Pollock has served as co-chair of the Evanston Environment Board and volunteer steward at the City’s Ladd Arboretum. She contributes to the Climate Watch column in the RoundTable’s Environment...