Keeping It Green at Oakton

Your source for the most current sustainability news from Oakton Community College

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Cutting and Burning: Restoring Habitat on the Des Plaines Campus

Next time you pull into Oakton’s Des Plaines campus along Golf Road, take a look on either side of you just past the baseball fields.  To your right, you will likely see a blackened patch of earth and to the left–lots of grasses (and hopefully!) a glimpse of the river.  Had you driven by this past Saturday morning, you definitely would not have seen the river, but you may have noticed individuals wielding loppers and saws, cutting down trees and dragging them to burn piles, or witnessed (licensed!) individuals setting fire to a stretch of prairie grass. Believe it or not, this is restoration in progress.



Over 100 people participated in Oakton Community College’s Fall Restoration workday on November 8th.  This annual event, sponsored and organized by our Ecology Club, is a great opportunity for students and community members to get some hands-on experience restoring and preserving the natural areas on campus.  As part of a larger prairie restoration project, volunteers of all ages (including youth scouts working right alongside college students) removed invasive buckthorn from a stretch of land next to Oakton’s baseball fields along the Des Plaines River.


Volunteers also planted about 20 native shrubs in a recessed portion of the area that will grow to create safe, usable habitat for frogs, snakes and other animals in the restored prairie.



After a few hours of hard work cutting down and dragging out buckthorn trees, attendees were treated to a prescribed burn demonstration in a restored prairie section just across the street. Students learned about the importance of fire for healthy prairie ecosystems and were encouraged to come back in spring as grasses and other plants start to return.

















“I thought you were trying to SAVE the environment…why are you cutting down trees and burning prairie??” These are common questions for anyone new to a restoration project.  Here is a quick synopsis:

Take a look at the before and after shots below.  Non-native species (like buckthorn) were/are often brought over from other areas of the world either as decorative plants, shrubs used for good coverage, or a number of other reasons. Unfortunately, some species become invasive–meaning that they take advantage of their new surroundings by consuming, reproducing and spreading. These quick growing plants absorb nutrients from the soil and grow tall in a short amount of time. In doing so, they use valuable resources that other (native and often slower growing) species need. As plants like buckthorn grow, they block sunlight from reaching seedlings of oak trees, ash trees, and other native plants whose growth we wish to encourage. (That’s why you see yellow caution tape in some of the images–those are the plants we want to see more of on campus!) Because they are so quick to grow, it can often be hard to eradicate them from an area once they have taken hold. Workdays like this provide the man (and woman) power we need to take down a lot of the individual trees. Licensed individuals then come through and use a specialized herbicide on the plants that were cut down to ensure they do not grow back. It can take several years to clear an area of invasive species.





There was a River hiding behind all of those invasive species!!




In the case of prairies, fire is an important part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. In natural prairies, fire would occur periodically–wiping out invasive grasses that could not withstand the temperatures and ensuring proper development of native seeds–some of which require those high temperatures to germinate. Because native prairie grasses have deep root bases growing from a point underground, even though the grassy stems above ground are burnt, the plant itself remains intact–ready to grow and thrive as the spring comes.  In restored prairies, such as this stretch, prescribed burns are a way of controlling invasive species thereby giving the prairie grasses we have planted in the past enough nutrients and space to grow and reproduce.

It takes a lot more effort to restore stretches of natural land than it does to disrupt or destroy them. As the seasons change and you watch these areas grow, take a second to think about all of the work that goes into maintaining and restoring the beautiful habitats–and maybe you can join us next time!!



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Calling all Filmmakers! Film Contest–entries due January 18

One Earth Film Festival Young Filmmakers Contest

For Students From 3rd Grade Through College


The 3rd Annual “One Earth … Our Earth!” Young Filmmakers Contest part of the One Earth Film Festival.
This contest is open to students, grades 3 – college who submit short films focusing on one (or a couple) of topics pertaining to sustainability. Visit the Young Filmmakers Contest webpage for details and judging criteria. Winners in each age category will win a cash prize and matching grant, digital hosting of their film, and a world premier screening of their film at the 4th Annual One Earth Film Festival – March 6-8, 2015.
Please share this opportunity with students, teachers and parents! If you would be willing to forward the digital flier to anyone in your organization and network that you think might be interested, this would be tremendously helpful in opening this contest up to as many kids as possible.
To assist children (and parents) who want to hone their filmmaking skills, we will be hosting free workshops. Space is limited. Full enrollments details for the workshops will be posted at
If interested in receiving workshop information by email or reserving space for a group of children from your school, please inform Natalie Laczek at or (312) 605-0259. Additionally, Natalie is able to send a representative to your school to talk to faculty, PTO or green-team about the contest.
Please note that all entries for this year’s Young Filmmakers Contest are due January 18, 2015. For more information about this contest and the most up to date Film Festival news please visit

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Join us for an educational expo and TRASHY fashion show!

Join SWANCC (the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County) for their annual Education Expo and Trashy Fashion Show! Vendors and company reps who collect and process solid waste from our area will be on hand to discuss services, answer questions and educate the community about where all that “stuff” goes when it leaves our hands, homes and businesses.  As a special treat, creative men and women with a flair for design have been asked to develop wearable pieces made from trash as part of the annual “Trashy Fashion Show”!

This year’s event will be held at Oakton Community College on Saturday, November 15 from 10am to 3pm.  This is a great chance to learn a bit more and think a bit differently. We look forward to seeing you there!

Representatives from Oakton Community College’s Green Committee will be on hand to discuss current sustainability initiatives the college is pursuing as well as to provide information on the new Science and Health Careers Center, which is scheduled to open for classes in January. A member of the committee will be leading 15-minute walking tours around the new building to discuss its sustainability features.

For more details and photos of previous fashion shows, check out the links below!