For Sam Schroeder, volunteering for the Forest Preserve District started as a way to fulfill his high school community service hours. His father, Paul, had to drive him to and from each time, so he figured he would volunteer as well. Then younger brother Max followed suit a few years later.
Today, high school community service requirements have long since passed, with Sam studying at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Max at Joliet Junior College, but volunteering with the District remains something all three Schroeders enjoy.
While each finds value in volunteering for the District, why they do varies. Paul likes it because it's "180-degrees different" from his desk job. Sam likes being outside, while Max enjoys seeing his efforts make a difference.
Volunteering together is worthwhile, Max said, because it allows them to spend quality time with one another. And although much of what they do looks like – and is – hard work, it's not just that.
"... it is really fun, and very rewarding," Sam said.
Although Paul originally started volunteering because his kids did, he said it's become much more through the years.
"Sam inspired me to get started. Both Sam and Max inspire me to keep going," he said. "We are a team of equals when we volunteer. We are creating a living museum for all to enjoy."
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Today, the Schroeders are co-stewards of Hickory Creek Preserve's Hickory Creek Junction in Mokena and also serve as trail sentinels, regularly monitoring and observing the trails and also picking up trash. In addition, they enjoy participating in volunteer workdays, because they are an opportunity to work together to make noticeable progress with preserve restoration while also inspiring others to volunteer more. In fact, several years ago, another volunteer nicknamed the Schroeder trio "the clone army" because of how they work together at the workdays.
While their volunteer work has included many tasks and projects throughout the years, they are most proud of – and most committed to – their restoration work at Hickory Creek Junction. When they started as stewards, they could see the potential of the site but also the effort it would require. With that in mind, they set a goal of getting the primary restoration of the site completed within 10 years.
That was about five years ago, and they've been making steady progress since that time. The restoration work includes removing invasive plants and trees and followup work to control invasive species as well as helping to rebalance and reintroduce native plant species, Paul said.
As co-stewards of the preserve, the Schroeders serve as the lead on the restoration effort, Paul said. Their efforts are complemented by work done by District crews and contractors as well as other volunteers at volunteer workdays.
"Other stewards from other sites will join us from time to time and pitch in as well," Paul said.
Now about halfway through their 10-year goal to complete the primary restoration, the Schroeders remain committed to Hickory Creek Junction.
"The end goal is to be at a point where major efforts are not needed to maintain the site, which gives us all more time to enjoy the site," Paul said.
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