Keeping our land and water healthy

Openlands is proud to be a sponsor of TimeLine’s Spill by Leigh Fondakowski.L The play reminds us of the reality of greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history (save the encroaching catastrophe of climate change). Movingly, it tells the human stories of those most closely impacted by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the BP oil spill—those who lost their lives, those left behind, and those whose coastal world was destroyed.

People are at the center of the play. And people are at the center of stewarding our planet and the landscapes we call home. In the face of cataclysmic disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill, the ongoing drought in the American West, and the dangers of climate change, it sometimes feels that there is little we can do.

World leaders yesterday concluded the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The world’s eyes are on the developments there and their far-reaching implications.

But there is a growing body of research—in addition to news stories and anecdotes from around the world—that resiliency in the face of environmental disasters and climate change is being addressed most effectively at the local level.

For years, the focus on the world’s response to climate change has been on nation states, which have been mostly unsuccessful in brokering comprehensive agreements or taking action … Urban areas, home to more than half of the world’s people, are emerging as the ‘first responders’ in adapting to and mitigating climate change.*

Founded in 1963 as a program of the Welfare Council of Metropolitan Chicago, Openlands is one of the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations in the nation and the only such group with a regional scope in the greater Chicago region. Openlands has helped protect more than 55,000 acres of land for public parks and forest preserves, wildlife refuges, land and water greenway corridors, urban farms, and community gardens.

Tree planting at London Towne Homes in Pullman.

Tree planting at London Towne Homes in Pullman.

Openlands’ vision for the region is a landscape that includes a vast network of land and water trails, tree-lined streets, and intimate public gardens within easy reach of every city dweller. It also includes parks and preserves big enough to provide natural habitat and to give visitors a sense of the vast prairies, woodlands, and wetlands that were here before the cities.

In other words, Openlands is about connecting people to nature where they live.

Each of us in the Chicago region can help our parks, lakefront, forests, prairies, and rivers remain healthy and vibrant.

Something as simple as planting milkweed is an immense benefit to Monarch butterflies, which have undergone a huge population loss in the past 20 years because there is less milkweed to feed caterpillars.

Planting trees in the wake of infestations of pests like the Emerald Ash Borer, helps to store carbon, cool neighborhoods, reduce crime, and foster a sense of health and well-being.

Volunteers at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Volunteers at Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Supporting local farmers who grow lots of different types of food can improve land and water health by protecting soils and cleaning rivers and streams. Farming using conservation practices can serve as a buffer to natural areas and provide habitat for wildlife. On a smaller scale, community gardens in urban settings also provide valuable habitat for birds and insects and green space for neighborhoods.

Openlands and our partners—including volunteers, partner corporations and organizations like TimeLine Theatre, and governmental agencies—are working to keep our region healthy. To learn more and get involved, please visit

* Cynthia Rosenzweig, William Solecki, Stephen A. Hammer and Shagun Mehrotra, “Cities lead the way in climate-change action,” Nature, October 21, 2010, Vol. 467.

Brandon Hayes is Director of Communications for Openlands. He has spent his entire career at non-profit organizations and also has directed operas and plays in Chicago and his native metropolitan Detroit. Brandon is a long-time volunteer for the International Crane Foundation and a photographer and essayist, chronicling all 58 U.S. National Parks.

Leave a Reply