City in a Garden: Spring Service in Chicago, Illinois

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14085A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Work along the beaches of Lake Michigan 
  • Explore Chicago’s world-class cultural attractions during free time
  • Enjoy the great location in downtown Chicago


  • Lodging and most meals
  • Speakers on Chicago’s foremost conservation issues
  • Tools for service project


DatesApr 27–May 3, 2014
StaffJeanne Klimczak

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Chicago is often referred to as “the most American city.” It has something to offer everyone, from the Green Mill Poetry Slam to numerous blues bars, from kayaking the Chicago River to enjoying the Museum Campus in Grant Park. While this is in fact a service trip, we will also have free time to enjoy Chicago’s dining, entertainment, and cultural gems. There will be opportunities to coordinate outings with participants in our group as well as with other travelers at the hostel. On the non-scheduled work days, there is always the option of venturing out on your own. Participants may wish to arrive early or extend their stay to further explore the city.   

The Project

Our host agency is the Chicago Park District. Chicago is situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan, and the lakefront’s natural areas will serve as sites for some of our service projects. We anticipate helping with enhancement plantings, invasive plant removal, and possibly some supplemental seeding. Work areas are anticipated to include Jackson Park’s Wooded Island and Bobolink Meadow, both historically significant as part of the site of the famous World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Habitat at this location is comprised of both woodland and tall grass prairie. The restoration work is focused on increasing the diversity and prevalence of native plants. Additionally, we may help plant marram grass at one of the city’s 31 beaches, to help protect against erosion of the dunes.


The trip begins on Sunday afternoon at the hostel, with a welcome social hour and local conservation speaker, followed by dinner and then opportunities to experience Chicago at night. We will work a total of three and a half days with a day+ off. There will be ample time to explore the Windy City and enjoy planned group activities on some evenings. On Friday evening, we will enjoy a group dinner at a local restaurant. The trip ends after breakfast on Saturday. If you are interested in staying on through the weekend or longer, your leaders can help coordinate your plans.




Getting There

Chicago is well served by air, train, and bus transport, and the CTA can easily get you to the hostel from O’Hare and Midway airports and Union Station. Detailed information regarding using Chicago public transportation will be provided to approved participants. Parking is expensive in downtown Chicago, so please keep this in mind if you plan to drive. 

Accommodations and Food

We’ll be staying at the Hostelling International – Chicago facility, which has an excellent central location in downtown Chicago. We will share gender-separated, semi-private rooms, with en suite bathrooms. This means you can expect to have one or more roommates, depending on the group composition. Individual lockers are provided for personal belongings (bring your own padlock!). Bed linens and towels are also provided.

We will have limited access to kitchen facilities. Please be aware that we prepare meals for a group and cannot accommodate all individual preferences or extremely restrictive diets. We ask that you discuss any dietary restrictions with the leaders in advance. Each person will help cook and clean up at least one day of the trip. The hostel provides a continental breakfast, and we will make our lunches before heading to the work site. Some dinners will be at the hostel, while others will be in area restaurants. 

Trip Difficulty

This is a leader-approved trip. As this is a service trip, the anticipation is that participants will actively participate in the volunteer work projects. Each participant will work at his or her own pace and endurance level. The projects may include some strenuous activity (e.g. digging, hauling, planting). There may also be some long stretches of walking from the CTA stop to our work sites. Springtime in Chicago can have temperatures ranging from the 40s to the low 70s, and there may well be spring rain, so appropriate gear is strongly suggested. An equipment list will be provided with the welcome letter. 


Chicago Park District:


Chicago has one of the most extensive park districts in the nation, comprising more than 8,100 acres and including 50 nature areas. In the 1830s, the motto “City in a Garden” was adopted, and residents rallied their efforts to create the nation’s first comprehensive park system.  Beginning with Lincoln Park, on the city’s north side, Chicagoans worked together to create neighborhood parks; this network of parks provided a green oasis in the rapidly growing, industrial city in the late 19th century and was heralded by President Theodore Roosevelt as “the most notable civic achievement in any American city."

With such a large and varied array of green spaces to manage, the Park District must carefully balance its limited resources. We anticipate that our service project will focus on several natural areas on the lakefront. Wind erosion is a major concern along the lakefront and to combat the effect of this (and the subsequent displacement of sand onto nearby parkland) we will be planting a naturally occurring dune grass, known as marram grass. This grass assists in stabilizing the sand by virtue of a deep root system.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Jeanne has both led and cooked for numerous Sierra Club service trips. She lived in Chicago for more than 20 years and is excited to bring a SC service trip to this "City in a Garden." She looks forward to working and exploring this fabulous town with trip participants. Jeanne currently lives in Aurora, IL with her family, which currently includes two foster children and always includes her wonderful husband, teenage daughter, five cats, and a dog. Jeanne's interests and activities are varied, and include reading, writing, travel, community-building and sustainable living.


Candy Barnhill, an outdoor enthusiast and Master Gardener, enjoys volunteering as a Sierra Club Outings chef and trip leader. Smitten with traveling nationally and internationally, she enjoys being outdoors with her shelties, living healthfully, making new acquaintances and sun-soaking on any beach or trail. Candy looks forward to learning your strategies for living greener lives and sharing adventures on National Outings trips.

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