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Volunteers aim to bring sunlight to forest preserve

SUGAR GROVE – Working under an overcast sky, close to two dozen volunteers tended to the Bliss Woods Forest Preserve Saturday morning, using such tools as pitchforks and herbicide to help ensure the natural ecology can thrive in the 231-acre woodland.

As she does every month, volunteer steward Mary Ochsenschlager led the habitat restoration work day, splitting the larger-than-normal group into two: the veterans and the less experienced.

The veteran volunteers were directed to a patch of invasive shrubbery near the main parking lot that needed to be removed and to have their stumps dabbed with herbicide.

"These plants are very aggressive," Ochsenschlager said, noting many are honeysuckle.

After a short lesson about spring wildflowers – she later would also teach the group about skunk cabbage – she led the less experienced volunteers deeper into the preserve.

Ochsenschlager soon paused to explain why the volunteers' work is needed. Because this area is fire dependent, she said, when there is no fire, trees and shrubs will grow so much that they cast other vegetation, like flowers, in shadow.

In an effort to open up the woods to get more sunlight to the floor, she said, the forest preserve has hired tree cutters to remove trees – mostly the fire-sensitive maples – that are 4 to 6 inches in diameter. This, however, has left layers of wood chips that, in some areas, are smothering the wildflowers, she said.

"You can see this is way too thick," Ochsenschlager said, scooping up a pile of chips with a pitchfork and tossing it elsewhere.

Aurora resident Harriet Reutter described the quiet work as peaceful and said she liked that she could work at her own pace.

"Boy, it's tough to find a bare spot," Reutter said, searching for a spot to drop her pitchfork full of wood as her husband, John, worked nearby.

The 71-year-old has been participating in the habitat restoration work days for a few years, though she doesn't attend every month, she said.

"I've always liked being in the woods," Reutter said.

Habitat restoration work days are held at various forest preserves in Kane County. Contact the volunteer coordinator at 630-762-2741 or for more information or to be added to the workday email list.

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