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'Ladies Of LaBagh' Help Keep Chicago Forest Preserve Wild

By Justin Breen | August 29, 2016 5:31am | Updated on September 2, 2016 10:45am
 Aqsa Junagadhwala is one of many younger volunteers joining the forest preserves' efforts to enhance LaBagh Woods.
LaBagh volunteers
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CHICAGO — Ella LaBagh likely would be proud of the women volunteering in the woods named in her honor.

The Northwest Side forest preserve LaBagh Woodsnamed for LaBagh, a naturalist who fought to save trees and other plant and wildlife — remains one of Chicago's wildest areas, in big part to the large group of female volunteers who remove invasive species and make sure native ones keep thriving.

"The reason LaBagh Woods is standing is because of the sweat and blood of the woman who saved it, and there are a lot of women who come out and work here," said Aqsa Junagadhwala, a Loyola University Chicago senior who's been volunteering at LaBagh for almost a year. She called her fellow female volunteers the "Ladies of LaBagh."

 Aqsa Junagadhwala removing invasive buckthorn at LaBagh Woods.
Aqsa Junagadhwala removing invasive buckthorn at LaBagh Woods.
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Aqsa Junagadhwala

RELATED: LaBagh Woods Hosts 157 Bird Species, Vibrant Wildlife, Group Finds

Junagadhwala, who has picked up enough volunteer hours that she'll soon be leading groups in the field, represents the good percentage of young, female volunteers at the preserve, according to Friends of the Forest Preserves community organizer Josh Coles. Groups of between 20-40 people routinely meet in the woods at events called workdays, taking out plants like buckthorn that shouldn't be there and spreading seeds of native grasses and sedges that should. Almost half of the group are in their 20s and 30s, Coles said.

"LaBagh and some other nearby sites are attractive to younger volunteers because they're accessible via public transportation or are easy to bike to," Coles said. "And the workdays that occur usually consist of some sort of educational or skill-building component, which is something that younger stewards and volunteers enjoy."

Junagadhwala, who turned 21 Friday and starts her senior year studying conservation restoration Monday, hadn't even heard of LaBagh Woods until she signed up as a volunteer. She initially volunteered to bolster her academic background, but she said the experience has led to forest preserve internships, meeting amazing people who have a passion for conservation and incredible times in nature. That includes monitoring plants at LaBagh that are so rare, she's signed a non-disclosure agreement saying she wouldn't reveal what and where they are.

"Once somebody comes out and sees how much fun this is, they'll want to come out again," Junagadhwala said.

The next workday at LaBagh is Sept. 10. For more information, click here or here.

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