LAKEVIEW — The 40-year-old green ash tree cracked and fell to the loud shouts of "Timber!" on Saturday morning.
The scene played out at Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary as cars zoomed by on Lake Shore Drive just south of Addison Street. About 10 volunteers braved the blustery, bitterly cold weather, when temperatures dropped into the teens, to help remove invasive plant life from the 10-1/2-acre sanctuary, which is part-time home to more than 250 bird species.
"I've worked in colder conditions; this isn't that bad," said Terry Schilling, of Edison Park, the co-steward at the sanctuary. "I'm actually sweating."
The tree was chopped down to make room for native species like oak and hickory trees. Seeds for native plants including wild hyacinth are being prepared for early spring planting.
"We want to have the best plants that migratory birds find the most nourishing," said co-steward and legendary activist Charlotte Newfeld, of Lakeview.
The sanctuary dates to 1923, when the North Parks Commission set aside 5-1/2 acres of recent landfill east of 3601 N. Lake Shore Drive. Through the years, the site, named after the late activist and volunteer Bill Jarvis, has expanded and has been enclosed by a fence that keeps everyone but volunteers out.
Schilling was the very first volunteer in 1999, and, after working an entire day trying to remove the invasive garlic mustard plant, he realized "this needed to be a larger-scale volunteer project."
For the past decade-plus, the Lake View Citizens' Council and Chicago Park District have partnered to keep the area "an important protected bird area," Newfeld said. The volunteer base has grown to more than 200, with an average of 20 to 30 coming the second and fourth Saturdays of every month.
Through grants and additional help, Newfeld has been able to acquire a large shed next to the sanctuary that is filled with work tables, shovels, gloves, wheelbarrows, tree saws, loppers, pruners and other equipment.
"It's my first priority for volunteering, and I've been spending my life as a volunteer," Newfeld said. "I live very close by, and I don't have the physical capability anymore to work at Cook County Forest Preserves.
"What we've established here is so special, that I'm willing to fight for it."
Newfeld said the sanctuary features two ponds and a wetland. Animals include raccoons, opossums, coyotes and a plentiful insect population. There used to be several turtles and frogs, but the raccoons ate almost all of them, she said.
Most of the birds don't hang around during the winter, but there were sightings of cardinals, robins, cedar waxwings, tree sparrows, juncos and chickadees.
Their absence didn't keep the hearty volunteers from making sure they have the best habitat possible when arriving later this year.
"Our volunteers really enjoy it because they're actually working with plants," Newfeld said. "And we're always looking for better ways to improve the sanctuary."