While many Evanston residents spend their Sunday mornings reading the paper, worshipping in church or getting ready for their kids’ soccer games, a group of dedicated volunteers can be found working in Dwight Perkins Woods, one of Evanston’s gems.
Under the guidance of Libby Hill, a longtime leader in Evanston’s environmental movement and the volunteer steward for Perkins Woods, the volunteers remove invasive species, plant native trees and shrubs and nurture the tiny remnant of the forest that once stood in northwest Evanston.
“Perkins Woods is an important element of the neighborhood and of the city,” said Sarah Flax, who has been volunteering for many years. “I like to be outside and this is a good way to do that and help preserve the area.”
Bounded by Colfax Street on the north, Grant Street on the south, Ewing Avenue on the west and Lincolnwood School on the east, Perkins Woods is not a city park but part of the vast Cook County Forest Preserve District system. At one square block, Perkins Woods is the smallest of the forest preserves and the only one located in Evanston.
Despite its small size, the Perkins Woods ecosystem includes towering oaks, low-lying areas that become small ponds in the spring and an undergrowth of flowering plants, shrubs and vines. As the seasons change, different plants appear, starting with wildflowers in the early spring and continuing through brilliantly colored leaves on the trees in the fall. (However, poison ivy also can be found throughout the area, so visitors should stay on the crushed-gravel paths that crisscross the woods.)
Along with Hill, the restoration work has been led by Tom Klitzkie and Paul Williams, who share informal responsibility in planning for the woods and provide expertise in identifying plants. Approximately 30 volunteers help in the work, usually eight to 12 at a time, removing invasive species such as buckthorn, honeysuckle and garlic mustard to encourage the growth of native plants.
“I started doing this about five years ago when I retired and it was a good experience, so now I do it year-round,” said Tony Rothschild, who lives near the woods. He volunteers for similar work at other forest preserves, Ladd Arboretum and the Evanston Civic Center, where there is a small area of native planting.
Alex Origitano joined the group after walking through the woods one Sunday morning about a year and half ago and talking to some of the volunteers about what they were doing. She’s now a regular, and as part of her environmental efforts, has converted some of her lawn into an area with native plants. “If every landowner would give back just one-third of their yard to native plants, we wouldn’t have the problem of bees disappearing,” she said.
Perkins Woods is named for Dwight Perkins (1867-1941), the Evanston resident and renowned architect, who was a founder of the Forest Preserve District, leading the efforts to identify and acquire the land in the district’s early years.
“The work we have done this fall has already resulted in more light coming into the forest floor and more diverse native plants making a healthy understory,” Hill said.
She also noted that there will be a referendum on the November ballot for a 0.025% increase in the property tax levy for the Cook County Forest Preserve District and urged voters to support the increase.
Alan Cubbage volunteers at Perkins Woods and for other community projects in Evanston. He served for 21 years as Northwestern University’s vice president for university relations before his retirement.