Bringing Back the Birds and Butterflies: Betsy Leibson Restores the Green Bay Trail

Betsy Leibson, longtime Glencoe resident, planned to cut down some common buckthorn along the Green Bay Trail four years ago.

What started as short-term goal for her and several friends turned into an established organization called Friends of the Green Bay Trail. The group works to create a natural, healthy environment by removing invasive species such as common buckthorn and garlic mustard, which crowd out native forest plants and deplete them of their nutrients.

When Leibson and her friends originally set out to remove the buckthorn, they did not know anything about the native plants they could use to restore the portion of the trail where the buckthorn had been. Leibson started talking to people from garden clubs and nurseries to learn more, and the idea for her organization was born.

“There are always plants that I am learning about,” Leibson says. “It’s a huge learning process.”

FGBT’s work has focused on an area about a half-mile long between Harbor Street in Glencoe and Scott Street in Winnetka. Since the organization started in 2010, volunteers have helped to restore more than 200 trees and 15,000 native plants.

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“I guess a huge measure of our success is the return of birds and butterflies back to the trail,” Leibson says.

Monarch butterflies and goldfinches are two of the species Leibson says people have noticed returning to the trail. Milkweed is required for monarch life and once they started planting more milkweed, Leibson says she heard people saying, “Look there’s a monarch, there’s a monarch!”

Leibson was honored at the FGBT’s fourth annual fundraiser, Buckthorn BBQ, on Oct. 23 at theChicago Botanic Garden. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was the keynote speaker. Preckwinkle spoke of the importance of partnering institutions like the Chicago Botanic Gardens with community groups like FGBT. She cited FGBT as a role model for community-driven restoration efforts.

While Leibson says it is wonderful to hear people say thank you for all the organization’s hard work, she says there is a lot more work to be done. The organization is planning its next phases of restoration using a detailed trail landscape plan donated by ecology + vision, llc.

Along with Chicago Botanic Garden, FGBT’s also has partnerships with Glencoe Park District, Village of Glencoe and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“A gentleman who used to live in Glencoe heard about what we were doing on the trail through his friend,” Leibson says of a 91-year-old former Glencoe resident. “He said, ‘Let me see if I can give you a little help and he reached out to UIC.’”

Through this man’s help, FGBT has become the focus of UIC’s master program class Corporate Sustainability and Social Responsibility. Seven students are working with FGBT representatives for a semester to identify the best funding and resources to support its restoration efforts.

“I was really fortunate to run into people who have helped me tremendously,” Leibson says.

Leibson wants to continue to educate her Glencoe neighbors to stop planting species from China and Japan in their front yards and instead try growing more plants.

FGBT is always looking for volunteers. You can see upcoming fall, winter and spring community programs and sign up for trail workdays at gbtrail.org.  

 

Additional reporting by Maura Flaherty