Special volunteers and Forest Park Nature Center

By Audrey Williams

June 17, 2012 Updated Jun 17, 2012 at 10:15 PM CDT

PEORIA HEIGHTS, Ill -- A local gem is betting some much needed maintenance this weekend from two not-so-local people.

Melanie Canna and Cameron Johnson are traveling from New York across the county this summer promoting the preservation of nature, community involvement, and above all volunteerism. This weekend they made their first stop at the Forest Park Nature Center.

"To take 6 people that manage the area to try to manage the 500-or so acre preserve that it is, it would just be impossible without volunteers," said Johnson.

The nature center has only 3 full-time and 3-part time employees, but over 100 regular volunteers.
//JD Russell/Forest Park Nature Center
Chief Naturalist at the center, JD Russell, said, "Everyone that works here is extremely grateful for the volunteers that we have, whether they be working with our ecological restoration program, trail maintenance, or programs or events."

Russel adds they are grateful for their time, and had no problem putting Johnson and Canna right to work.

"Some much needed trail maintenance for us here," said Russell, "They are also helping us out with ecological restoration work in our forest and in our prairies."

Sunday they spent their time removing the invasive honeysuckle species.

"It crowds out and shades out all the native species that are supposed to be growing here. And so part of the nature centers mission is to provide a native area so people can come and see how it naturally once was," said Johnson.

Their 8,000 mile journey will end in mid-August, with a goal of donating over 400 hours of their time at various nature centers across the U.S., all while sharing the word about volunteering.

"It's important for a community to get involved, it does not have to be a nature center. Just get involved with anything they feel is important to them," said Canna.

To follow their journey visit www.exploreandrestore.org.

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