Moraine Valley Community College hosted representatives from eight community colleges, including two institutions from the City Colleges of Chicago, as well as delegates from the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Openlands and the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Conservation and Policy Council to discuss the value and potential utilization of the surrounding forests.

Moraine Valley president Dr. Sylvia Jenkins is a member of the Conservation and Policy Council, which advises the Cook County president and board of commissioners and the Forest Preserves of Cook County general superintendent on steps to implement the Next Century Conservation Plan’s vision of an ecologically healthy and stable forest preserve system. Staff, faculty, students and senior leaders from Moraine Valley, Triton College, South Suburban College, Oakton Community College, Harper College, Prairie State College, Wilbur Wright College and Kennedy-King College convened to examine the plan, the future of the preserves, ways the colleges already are using the forest and how to connect each entity and create a community of support.

“The ‘Community of Support’ concept is so that when it’s time to advocate (which is really always) for the preserves, different populations understand their value and will support them. This could mean legislating to re-appropriate some of our tax dollars toward them; developing long-lasting stewardship/research projects at an adopted preserve; engaging in volunteer workdays; including preserves staff at student life events; or creating cross-curricular programs for academic work in the forest,” said Stephenie Presseller, Moraine Valley sustainability manager. “The preserves don’t get used as much as they could, but many of them are in disrepair because they don’t have the resources to service them. They need more people to be exposed to and develop a love of them so they will advocate for them.”

The group will continue the conversation and work on next steps.