Tag Archives: stewards

RBD featured in South Side Weekly

4 Jun

Check out the recent article in South Side Weekly featuring RBD co-stewards Alison and Jen!


The Eyes, Ears, and Voices of the Parks

All public parks in Chicago can have stewards, volunteers who takes care of the wildlife and perform public outreach. The Weekly spoke to five of them.

L-R: Heather Breems, Jennifer Raber, Katie Flores, Jerry Levy, Alison Anastasio (Rohan Patrick McDonald)

Alison Anastasio and Jennifer Raber, Rainbow Beach Dunes Stewards

It’s all landfill underneath here.” Alison Anastasio gestured to the thriving grasses around her. Orange flowers dotted the field, while waves rolled onto the beach a few feet away. “I think that that is really incredible,” she added. “Here’s a little strip of land in between a parking lot just up the street from an old steel mill, on top of slag, and it’s doing a lot of things that the ecosystems in the Indiana Dunes do.”

Anastasio is one of the stewards for Rainbow Beach Dunes (RBD), located in Rainbow Beach Park on 77th Street and South Shore Drive. As stewards of RBD, Anastasio and Jen Raber organize monthly workdays, where they lead groups of volunteers in maintaining the park by picking up litter, pulling up invasive plants, and planting seeds of native plants.

Anastasio began stewarding in 2009, as she was finishing her PhD degree in ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. Once she had the time to explore the nature around the city, Anastasio fell in love with the dunes that characterize the Calumet region. After learning about the stewardship program from a friend, Anastasio reached out to the Chicago Park District. “I didn’t know there was such a good-looking dune habitat [here],” she said, as she first learned about RBD when the Parks District gave her a list of sites that needed stewards. Anastasio revitalized the stewardship program at RBD by reaching out to both the local community and Chicago’s wider network of nature organizations, building up a core group of volunteers.

Two years ago, Anastasio emailed the RBD mailing list for help with stewardship responsibilities. Between working full-time as a dean for the UofC’s MD-PhD program and organizing workdays by herself, she needed support. Raber, who had previously volunteered at RBD a few times, responded. After volunteering at parks across Chicago, Raber wanted to be more deeply involved with Chicago’s nature sites. “Showing up as a volunteer is fun and everything, but it’s more of an enriching, deeper experience when you’re responsible for the site,” she said.

RBD is a relatively new nature area, as the entire lakeside area used to be a manicured beach. In 2004, the Park District found that marram grass, one of the few plants that can grow on open sand, was growing on the beach. As marram grass is important in allowing for developing and stabilizing dune ecosystems, the Park District designated part of the beach as a natural area to support the growth of diverse plant species.

For Anastasio, who lives on the Far South Side, the most rewarding part of stewardship is “interacting with people who didn’t know that this was here, especially people that live in the neighborhood.” Local engagement has increased since 2009, thanks in part to Anastasio’s early efforts in community outreach. RBD now has partnerships with local high schools and receives about one hundred volunteers each year. RBD has also expanded its programming beyond workdays, partnering with the Bird Conservation Network to host bird-watching walks.

Raber lives near Montrose Beach and values how stewarding allows her to build a strong relationship with a nature site. “If I weren’t a steward, if I were just being a normal volunteer, even if it was Montrose or someplace near my house, I just feel like I wouldn’t have that deeper connection.” Raber and Anastasio want to share RBD with even more people in the future. “I feel like it still slides under the radar a little bit,” Raber says.  “I just want to expose people [to RBD] and have them have a good experience,” Anastasio said, “and if we can get some weeds pulled, that’s great.” (Maggy Liu)


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