Palos Restoration
The 14,000-acre Palos Preserve in Cook County is perhaps the most famous single natural tract in the lower Des Plaines region. Cited by the 1939 WPA Guide to Illinois as a landmark for hikers, it is known for its seasonal carpets of wildflowers and its migratory birds.

Yet even here, in this extensive piece of wildness in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, the ecological effects of surrounding urbanization have taken their toll.

Native ecosystems such as oak savanna and.prairie became degraded because of the "island" effect of surrounding development and the absence of fire. Naturalists and ecological activists determined that active human involvement was needed to preserve the region's native plant and animal species. In the early 1980s, volunteers began tending sites in the area.

Dennis Nyberg, volunteer steward at Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve in the Palos complex, says restoration management has dramatically improved both the appearance and ecology of the Cranberry Slough area. Volunteers have burned, trimmed and girdled brush and trees, primarily to reduce non­native buckthorn and to re-open vistas between sedge meadows, wetlands and oak woodlands, which had become overgrown due to a lack of fire and invasion of foreign species. They also planted native spxcies and repaired eroded natural ponds.

Since the 1980s, Nyberg estimates that he has visited the site about 50 times each year, for a few hours per visit. That's typical of the dedication of many volunteer restorationists. He feels his efforts paid off when sandhill cranes returned to nest at the slough in 1998, probably the first cranes to nest in Cook County since the Civil War. The impressive birds prefer open wetlands surrounded by oak savanna, the 19th-century landscape of the slough area, brought back by restoration.