Volunteers clean up plastic pollution at Joliet nature preserve for Earth Day

Volunteers help clean up plastic trash and other litter on Saturday at the Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet. The cleanup was hosted by the Forest Preserve District of Will County in recognition of Earth Day.

The lakes at the Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet are a sight to behold but the shorelines tend to be tainted by the persistent enemies of plastic and other bits of trash.

The problem is not apparent at first glance but after walking closer to the shorelines, plastic bottle caps, plastic lighters, straws, wrappers, spoons and other refuse can be seen dotting the shorelines.

That’s why dozens volunteers came out to the Rock Run Rookery Preserve on Saturday to help clean up the area. While the cleanup was held as part of Earth Day, organizers say they hope the event will inspire many to stay involved in environmental efforts long afterward.

“Hopefully people will extend this Earth Day to every day of the year,” said Alexis Lyons, an interpretive naturalist for the Forest Preserve District of Will County.

Lyons was with Jess McQuown, a program coordinator with the forest preserve, to facilitate the cleanup effort at the Rock Run Rookery Preserve. At least 35 people signed up to participate in the event where they gathered trash in five-gallon buckets and bags so they can be disposed of properly.

Saturday’s cleanup was part of several events hosted by the Forest Preserve District of Will County in recognition of Earth Day. The day is celebrated every year on April 22 to mark the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, according to Earth Day Network.

Volunteers help clean up plastic trash and other litter on Saturday at the Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet. The cleanup was hosted by the Forest Preserve District of Will County in recognition of Earth Day.

Emily Kenny, a volunteer services supervisor for the forest preserve, also hoped Saturday’s Earth Day events would make people conscious about what they can do to help the environment throughout the year.

She said the forest preserve does public cleanups at least once per quarter. She said there is a cleanup planned for National Trails Day in June and they’ll likely do another cleanup for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October.

“There’s a lot of different ways to keep the forest preserves clean for humans and the wildlife,” Kenny said.

Jessie Young was one of many volunteers who came out to the Rock Run Rookery Preserve on Saturday. She said she decided to participate because she wanted to have a “real impact that I can see.”

“It’s just a good use of my time,” Young said.

Young said it was her first time volunteering in the cleanup effort and she wished “more people would do something like this.”

“Then they can see the impact of just even one piece of litter has on the environment,” she said.

Litter visible on the shoreline at the Rock Run Rookery Preserve on Saturday in Joliet.

The Forest Preserve District of Will County produced a video in 2019 about the cause of plastic pollution at the Rock Run Rookery.

“When the water level rises on the Des Plaines River, the water level here rises,” said Erin Ward, an interpretive naturalist, in the video. “And so things flood in but then when the water level drops, they don’t flood back out. So they get trapped here.”

According to the forest preserve, littered plastic – such as bottles, straws, utensils and food containers – can end up in the water where it continuously breaks down into smaller pieces, which then pose a hazards for wildlife.

Gianna D’Amico, a Plainfield East High School student, said she was at the Rock Run Rookery Preserve in the winter of last year and the trash problem was worse.

“It’s actually a lot better now,” she said.

D’Amico said everybody needs to understand that pollution is a problem, even at the local level.

“Being able to help out locally, it’s really important,” she said.

Volunteers help clean up plastic trash and other litter on Saturday at the Rock Run Rookery Preserve in Joliet. The cleanup was hosted by the Forest Preserve District of Will County in recognition of Earth Day.