By John Rice
Each spring, a dirty little secret surfaces. The snow melts to reveal the layer of litter lurking beneath it. This blight can be found everywhere, but it's especially a problem along the Illinois Prairie Path. That's why an organization of volunteers is gathering on Saturday, April 27 to clean and spruce up the 132 miles of path that extends from its eastern trailhead in Maywood to the Fox River.
Overseeing this annual effort is John Marconnet, a Winfield resident who lives a few hundred feet from the path. He will coordinate the efforts of 300-400 volunteers. The Wheaton section alone attracts about 90 volunteers. They clear hazards from the path and pick up litter on both sides. There is no rain date, so volunteers have worked in high winds and pouring rain. These individuals range in age from 8 to 74. Many organizations also sign up, like scout troops, churches and even the DuPage County Swat Team.
As Marconnet observed, the eastern section of the path needs as much TLC as the Wheaton section. It passes through an urban landscape, where litter tends to collect. The new coordinator for this section is Marcius Scaggs. He described the Cook County portion of the path as "under-utilized and under-maintained." Fortunately, the village of Maywood is solidly behind efforts to remediate it. The village has equipped volunteers with bags, rakes, shovels and gloves. It has furnished trucks to haul away the trash.
Scaggs is a former Maywood trustee who was drawn to the project by his mentor, Lenell Grace. Known as "Mr. Maywood," Grace would go door-to-door to recruit volunteers. After he died four years ago, Scaggs was determined to keep his legacy alive.
On the day of the annual cleanup, he assembles volunteers at 11th Avenue and the Prairie Path about 10 a.m. They are given water and a light breakfast, then cleanup crews are dispatched east and west from that location. They not only pick up bottles and clear tree limbs, they put mulch around the trees and plant native species. All of this is done in a festive atmosphere, according to Scaggs.
"We make a party out of it," he said, citing the upbeat music and the barbeque served. They usually attract about 30 volunteers but could use more, because they clean the path from 1st Avenue all the way through Hillside, a distance of six miles. The crews include people of all ages. Some are students who use the project to fulfill community service requirements.
Volunteers from Forest Park are welcome to join in. It's a perfect fit for a bike-friendly village located so close to the path. Our Boy Scout troop is already on board, but I can see other organizations getting involved. Besides the cleanup, our community garden members and garden centers could help with replenishing the plant life.
The project is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen ties between Forest Park and Maywood. We already share a high school; now we can be partners in maintaining the Prairie Path. In fact, there's a group of Forest Parkers who plan to improve access to the path by linking it to the Desplaines CTA terminal.
Volunteers can get involved in the cleanup by contacting Marcius Skaggs by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling him at 773-615-3925. We can help make the path more attractive to walkers, joggers and bikers, which will encourage more to people to use it.
On clean-up day, we can also do what Forest Parkers do best — make a party out of it.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com