One of the most common pieces of advice I have heard about writing is to write about something you know about.  I guess it was meant to be that I did a little early morning birding today in Thatcher Woods – which is a Cook County Forest Preserve located along the Des Plaines River in River Forest, Illinois.  I felt this site might be worth writing about – in advance of Memorial Day – when I saw this marker:


This segment is known as GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Woods. It was dedicated in 1930, some 13 years after the land was purchased for the Forest Preserve system in 1917.

Thinking about (rather, imagining) some of the landscape changes on a site over nearly a century is a task that is worthwhile for anyone interested in restoration. I myself have become familiar with these woods along the river, and continue to be amazed by the ever changing parade of plant and animal life that I have seen. Thatcher Woods has been an active restoration site for many years – the result of combined efforts between hundreds of volunteers and the Forest Preserve staff.


Much of these woods are located in the flood plain of the  Des Plaines – which is part of the reason they were set aside as forest preserves. Simply put, the land wasn’t good for much else.  The heavy rains earlier this week filled up the backwaters pretty well. These area may not be everyone’s cup of tea for a hike, but there is a nice assemblage of water birds that can be seen here year round:


Not much of the restoration work happens in these lower areas, but is rather more focused on the higher elevations where oak savanna remnants get the most attention:


Like many of our local forest preserves, the restoration work has been rather recent. By recent, I’m guessing the last 30 years or so. The management of European buckthorn is non-stop, and other pests such as emerald ash borer and gypsy moth have also impacted the native trees.  The Plants of Concern project is also active in plant monitoring in these woods.

As I was birding -trying to summon some warblers!- the landscape history of these woods is impressive.  For the longest time (I suspect) they lingered here, enduring all manner of abuses until these recent, more enlightened times.  Hundreds, if not thousands of people have learned that the environmental story of Thatcher Woods still continues.  I have a hunch that it’s a story that similar to many of us working in urbanized settings.

I wonder how these woods compare to the 1917 model?  And I wonder what this land will be like in 2117?