League Lines: Creek Clean-up Turns Into Community Collaboration

Community stream cleanup event

What started as a series of stream clean-ups became a community collaboration to improve water quality and revitalize a neglected area in the Chicago suburbs.

Members of the League’s Elgin Chapter adopted sections of Poplar Creek – a stream that drains into the Fox River – and its tributary Willow Creek in 2012. The chapter’s property borders Poplar Creek, which was consistently filled with litter and debris. Chapter members decided to hold two creek clean-ups each year – one in the spring and one in the fall. Each event averaged about 60 volunteers, thanks in part to two chapter members who teach at Ellis Middle School and invited their science club students to participate. The middle school is located a few blocks from Willow Creek.

Just upstream from the Elgin Chapter, where Willow Creek feeds into Poplar, was a site where two abandoned houses had been demolished in 2013. Staff from Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) – a nonprofit neighborhood revitalization organization serving Chicago and its suburbs – were encouraged by the mayor of Elgin to consider the vacant lot for redevelopment efforts. They saw an “extraordinary piece of land,” says Mary Lu Seidel, Director of the NHS Fox Valley Office in Elgin.

Because the site was half a block away from a road that led to the middle school – a road that the science club would regularly clean up – NHS asked the students what they would like done with the site. One request was a trail that would safely take them from the middle school to Willow Creek for clean-ups. The students also connected NHS with members of the Elgin Chapter, whom NHS called on for their stream improvement expertise. Elgin Community Network mobilized neighbors and community leaders to become involved in the project as well.

The groups worked together to create a community park on the three-and-a-half-acre property. Their vision was to create a public space with walking trails and native trees and plants, including a butterfly garden and native prairie garden. Members of the Elgin Chapter coordinated a massive cleanup effort, including removal of trash and non-native brush and trees, to prepare the area for the new park. On October 8, 2014, the city of Elgin officially named this revitalized area Trillium Park – a name suggested by the middle school science club. The Elgin Chapter added the park to its semi-annual cleanup event to keep the park a healthy community resource.

The Trillium Park Project created partnerships among groups that had not worked together before. “Before this, we would have never thought to contact IWLA,” said Seidel, but it proved to be “an extraordinary partnership.”

By Debbie Chopas