Resident directs his attention to nature
NAME: Conrad Fialkowski
BEST KNOWN AS: DuPage Forest Preserve District volunteer and recipient of the district’s Lifetime Achievement Award
HOMETOWN: Burr Ridge
Updated: June 4, 2012 11:32AM
Conrad Fialkowski of Burr Ridge is doing more than clearing brush and pulling weeds during the many hours he spends at Mayslake Forest Preserve in Oak Brook.
He’s making memories.
Fialkowski was honored with the DuPage County Forest Preserve District’s Lifetime Achievement Award in April.
“That is one that I am very happy to say I have,” said Fialkowski. “I am very proud of it.”
For three hours every Monday, Fialkowski leads a group of volunteers in the arduous task of clearing more than 50 acres of woodland of non-native, invasive plants.
“They choke out the things that should be there,” he said of the buckthorn trees, Japanese honeysuckles and other non-native plants.
He’s practiced the weekly ritual for nearly 14 years, each week leaving another small portion of the forest preserve free of unwanted brush and plants.
“The only thing that stops us is heavy rain,” Fialkowski said.
The group, co-led by Jacqui Gleason of Western Springs, also collects seeds and replants seeds where needed.
“We’re building a matrix of native plants,” Fialkowski said.
Armed with saws and loppers, the eight-member group piles unwanted brush into piles to be burned.
“We don’t use power tools,” he said. “You get pretty tired.”
But Fialkowski said it’s a good kind of tired.
“Everybody who does it feels physically better,” he said.
Last year, Fialkowski and his group eliminated the forest preserve of 115 piles of brush. He alone has contributed more than 4,300 hours to the preserve — 536 hours just this year.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Fialkowski said, the outdoors was his playground. He spent his days exploring wooded areas and catching tadpoles.
“I’ve always been an outdoor kid,” said Fialkowski, who moved to Burr Ridge 17 years ago.
Even today, at 73, he prefers to be outside.
He also enjoys learning about the plants he’s helping to grow.
“The names are fascinating,” he said.
Rattlesnake master, for instance, is fabled to keep rattlesnakes away.
Bee balm is believed by some to take the burn out of bee stings.
Compass plant can even be used as a guide.
“Their leaves are generally oriented north to south,” Fialkowski said.
His work at Mayslake is gratifying, but Fialkowski said there are ways to help encourage native plant growth without traipsing into the woods. The DuPage County Forest Preserve will hold its annual native plant sale at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 11 and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 12. Proceeds will benefit the Office of Education of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
“It’s a way to build that educational bridge to the public,” Fialkowski said.