An Old Pair of Gym Shoes

In the spirit of Earth Day, this month we invited Chicago Wilderness members to share stories about personal or professional volunteer experiences that improve the health of nature and our communities. Benjamin Cox, President, Friends of the Forest Preserves and Co-Steward, Dan Ryan Woods, starts off the April series with a short reflection on his experience as a long-time volunteer leader.

Photo courtesy Benjamin Cox, Friends of the Forest Preserves.

By Benjamin Cox

Someone left an old pair of gym shoes in the grass next to our Metra Train platform, which happens to be a stone’s throw from Dan Ryan Woods – one of the only preserves of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in the City of Chicago.

That pair of shoes had been there for months. At times they were buried in long grass or partially hidden by fallen brown leaves and even covered with a dusting of snow. On this day, they were once again all too evident.

A couple weeks ago, I was early enough for the train – not to mention the warmer weather made it much easier to wait on the unprotected platform – that I had the time to pick them up and throw them in the garbage along with a couple of bottles. Litter really bothers me. But bottles, bottles are just waiting to be a huge problem to clean up if they are broken.

Noticing what I had done, a neighbor that is often also at that stop, said, “You’re a good neighbor. If we all did that the world would be a much cleaner place.”

He’s right.

For many years it has been my personal philosophy that just picking up three pieces of litter will make a difference. Let me explain. A great hike through the hills in the oak woodland at Dan Ryan Woods, for example, can quickly be ruined by focusing solely on litter and working hard to pick it all up. But, if I commit to just picking up three pieces, I can be at peace with having done my part today.

I can still enjoy my hike in the woods where we’ve been holding monthly workdays for more than 10 years. I know I did something. And, I can take solace in knowing that at some point I can join a group of volunteers and focus on a bigger clean up if needed.

Most of all, I know that leading by example does have an impact.

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