A sign stands in the prairie reading Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy Headquarters.
Nachusa Grasslands Sign A sign stands in the prairie reading Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy Headquarters. © @ Chris Helzer / The Nature Conservancy

Volunteer in Illinois

Illinois Nature Conservancy Volunteer Sites

Learn about what to expect while volunteering at each of our Illinois Nature Conservancy volunteer sites.

Bison herd grazing on a hill in the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands
Bison herd, Nachusa Grasslands Bison herd grazing on a hill in the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands © Charles Larry

Nachusa Grasslands 

Nachusa Grasslands consists of 3,100 acres of prairie located between Oregon, Dixon and Franklin Grove, IL. Starting in 1986 with the purchase of 250 acres, The Nature Conservancy has gradually recreated a mosaic of prairie, savanna and wetlands that reflects what the land would have looked like in the 1800s. Today, Nachusa Grasslands is home to more than 700 native prairie plants, as well as many important birds, insects and reptiles. In the fall of 2014, bison were re-introduced at Nachusa.

What can I expect when I volunteer? 

  • Expect to be working with an experienced land steward who has an intimate knowledge of a particular management unit. Tasks range from native seed collection and weed management to invasive tree and brush removal.
  • Expect to learn about many new species of flora and fauna, state-of-the-art techniques in conservation and restoration, and the effects of fire and grazing on the landscape.
  • In the spring and fall, trained and certified volunteers can expect to assist with prescribed fire. For more information about training and certification, contact Nachusa at (815) 456-2340.
  • Expect lively camaraderie with folks who are intensely interested in the natural world and dedicated to its preservation.
  • Expect a light mid-morning snack provided by the steward leading the workday.
  • Expect beautiful scenery, fresh air, working outside with your hands, and sleeping well the night after a workday.

When and where? 

  • Workdays begin at 9:00 a.m. every Saturday with the exception of a couple dates throughout the year. Please check the workday calendar for an updated schedule.
  • Workdays end at lunch time, but you are welcome to continue if the stewards return to the field.
  • Volunteers meet at the Nachusa Grasslands Stewardship Barn, 8772 S. Lowden Road, Franklin Grove, IL 61031.

What should I bring?

  • Bring sturdy work shoes, long pants, work gloves and a bottle of drinking water year-round. A brimmed hat and sunscreen are recommended in the summer.
  • Bring a lunch if you want to eat with other volunteers after the workday; noontime meals around the break table are very enjoyable.
  • All necessary equipment and tools will be provided.

How can I learn more? 

Check the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands website, the Friends Facebook page or call (815) 456-2340 to learn about specific stewardship units, activities or workday changes and cancellations. You can also contact Bill Kleiman (bkleiman@TNC.ORG) to request to be added to the weekly workday notification email list.

Three grey and orange butterflies rest on orange flowers.
Fringed gentian butterflies Three fringed gentian butterflies seen at Indian Boundary Prairies in Chicago. © Karl Gnaedinger / The Nature Conservancy

Indian Boundary Prairies

Indian Boundary Prairies, a cluster of four prairies just south of Chicago, comprise the largest remaining example of high-quality grassland in Illinois and one of the best in the Midwest. With more butterflies and plant diversity than almost any other prairie in the state, they are a storehouse of genetic resources and a globally important natural asset. Because of their importance, a portion of the Indian Boundary Prairies has been named a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. These 370 acres of prairie currently protected are owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and Northeastern Illinois University and are located just south of Chicago, near the junction of US Route 57 and Interstate 294.

What can I expect when I volunteer? 

  • Expect to either be working with or get clear guidance from experienced staff members that have an intimate knowledge of the preserve. Tasks range from native seed collection and weed management to invasive tree and brush removal.
  • Expect to learn about many new species of flora and fauna, state-of-the-art techniques in conservation and restoration, and the effects of fire and restoration on the landscape.
  • Expect lively camaraderie with folks who are intensely interested in the natural world and dedicated to its preservation.
  • Expect beautiful scenery, fresh air, working outside with your hands, and sleeping well the night after a workday.

When and where? 

  • Workdays begin at 9:00 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month and additional volunteer service days are arranged on an "as needed" basis.
  • Volunteers will meet at the prairie house on Paintbrush Prairie located at 3454 West 155th Street, Markham, IL 60428-3807.

What should I bring? 

  • Bring sturdy work shoes, long pants, work gloves and a bottle of drinking water year-round. Dress for the weather, layers in the winter and a brimmed hat and sunscreen are recommended in the summer.
  • All necessary equipment and tools will be provided.

How can I learn more? 

Check the Friends of Indian Boundary Prairies website. To find out about workday changes and cancellations or to be added to the weekly workday notification email list, contact Mary Anicich (manicich@tnc.org).

An eastern tailed blue butterfly sits on a small branch.
Eastern Tailed Blue Butterfly Eastern tailed blue butterfly at Kankakee Sands, Indiana. © Carol Freeman

Kankakee Sands

Kankakee Sands is a prairie-savanna complex located south of Chicago. It harbors hundreds of unique and endangered species as well as some of the rarest habitat on earth: sand prairie and black oak savanna. These habitats once dominated parts of Indiana and Illinois, but 99.9% of the original prairie and savanna has been lost. Working with partners, the Conservancy is creating a mosaic of protected lands at the Kankakee Sands preserve that spans approximately 34,000 acres across the Illinois/Indiana border. Volunteers help to remove trash, control invasive species, and collect seeds for land restoration.

What can I expect when I volunteer? 

  • Expect to be working with an experienced land steward who has an intimate knowledge of a particular management unit. Tasks range from seed collection and weed management to invasive tree and brush removal.
  • Expect to learn about many new species of flora and fauna, state-of-the-art techniques in conservation and restoration, and the effects of fire on the landscape.
  • In the spring and fall, trained and certified volunteers can expect to assist with prescribed fire. For more information about training and certification, contact Rob Littiken (rlittiken@tnc.org).
  • Expect lively camaraderie with folks who are intensely interested in the natural world and dedicated to its preservation.
  • Expect beautiful scenery, fresh air, working outside with your hands, and sleeping well the night after a workday.

When and where? 

  • Workdays meet at 9:00 a.m. every first or second Saturday of every month May-October. Please check the workday calendar to make sure there is a workday scheduled.
  • Volunteers meet at the Kankakee Sands IL Mskoda Preserve, 3000S 11000E, Pembroke, IL 60958

What should I bring? 

  • Bring sturdy work shoes, long pants, work gloves, and a bottle of drinking water year-round. A brimmed hat and sunscreen are recommended in the summer.
  • Bring a lunch for after the workday; noontime meals around the break table are great way to get to know your fellow volunteers.
  • All necessary equipment and tools will be provided.

How can I learn more? 

Check the Friends of the Sands Facebook page to learn about specific stewardship units, activities, and workday changes or cancellations. You can also contact Rob Littiken (rlittiken@tnc.org) to request to be added to the weekly workday notification email list.

Sunsetting over tallgrass prairie
Sunsetting over tallgrass prai Sunsetting over tallgrass prairie © Ryan Donnell

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and was established in 1996 as the first national tallgrass prairie in the country. Midewin is located near Joliet, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. Midewin (pronounced mi-Day-win) is a Potawatomi word for their "Grand Medicine Society", a group that both healed individuals and kept the greater Potawatomi society in balance. Midewin's vision is one of healing and balance where the prairie and the people restore each other. This is a very special place because of the fascinating history, ambitious mission and vast size at 30 sq. miles (19,000 acres). This makes Midewin the largest open space in the Chicago metropolitan area and northeastern Illinois. Midewin's history of land use includes a combination of tribal lands, historic farmstead sites, pioneer cemeteries, and most recently the Joliet Arsenal was built to produce millions of tons of TNT for wartime ammunition starting at WWII. Midewin's ambitious mission includes restoring tallgrass prairie, which is one of the world's most endangered ecosystems. The public can enjoy over 30 miles of trails and also dozens of free programs for all ages. Midewin's most recent exciting news is the arrival of ten new bison calves for a total herd size of 36 bison. Read on to learn how to volunteer or visit!

What can I expect when I volunteer? 

  • Midewin's volunteer program is coordinated through a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service.
  • On your first day you will meet knowledgeable staff and other friendly volunteers that love the natural world.
  • You should make a point to use all of your senses during your work days. Expect unique and beautiful scenery everywhere you look. Smell the morning dew, fresh air, and seasonal fragrances. Listen for rare grassland birds or the mating calls of several frogs. Have a taste of wild onion leaves followed by a sprig of native mountain mint.
  • Midewin is a "prairie under construction" and you get to be part of the healing process. You can contribute to gradual, long-term changes as the former property of a major ammunition factory is restored into high-quality native prairie that is home to a wide diversity of wildlife.
  • You will learn about the challenges and successes of restoring the prairie through the use of farming, grazing, prescribed fire, drain tile removal, invasive removal, native planting and much more.
  • You will have the opportunity to participate in trainings and certifications in program areas such as prairie restoration, trail maintenance, environmental education, naturalist interpretation, heritage, wildlife monitoring and more.
  • With at least three annual volunteer visits, you will be invited to a volunteer recognition banquet including a silent auction, an award program, slideshow of accomplishments and social time with many other volunteers and staff.

When and where? 

General Restoration volunteer days are scheduled every Thursday from 9:00am-2:30pm. RSVP to the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator at (815) 423-2148. Knowing how many volunteers will attend allows our project leaders to plan appropriately and notify you in case of cancellations or changes. Volunteers will meet at the horticulture building by 9:00 a.m., located at the headquarters at 30239 S. State Route 53, Wilmington, IL 60481. The horticulture building is located closest to the greenhouse. Activities for these volunteer days may include brush cutting, applying herbicide, invasive plant pulling, seed broadcasting, planting, harvesting seed, trail maintenance, and more. 

To learn about additional volunteer opportunities, please check out the Midewin Volunteer Webpages to get an overview of the volunteer program. You will find links to a variety of position descriptions, FAQ’s, the volunteer application, directions, Midewin’s history and mission, and more.

What should I bring?

You must wear long pants and field boots with closed toes. Absolutely no shorts or sandals. Wear layers that can be taken on or off as needed. Even on warm days, bring a light, long sleeved shirt to protect your arms from vegetation and woody material that can scratch and irritate your skin. For your own comfort, you prefer your own garden/work gloves. Midewin will provide tools, materials, safety gear, and drinking water. Please bring your own sunscreen, insect repellant, sunglasses, hat, and water bottle.

How can I learn more? 

Check out the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie website and follow Midewin on Facebook too! You can call the Welcome Center at (815) 423-6370 or visit us at 30239 S State Route 53 Wilmington, IL 60481. 

Trails are open year round from 4am-10pm. The Welcome Center is open from 8am-4:30pm, Monday-Saturday (closed on Saturdays during November – March).

Illinois River
Illinois River Illinois River © Mike Fuhr

Illinois River Program

The Nature Conservancy’s projects and preserves along the Illinois River help protect the region’s lands and waters, as well as influence freshwater conservation across the country and even the globe. Emiquon, located near Havana, is one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest. It is the premiere demonstration site for The Nature Conservancy’s work on the Illinois River and within the Upper Mississippi River system and ultimately will help guide large floodplain river restoration efforts around the world. The Merwin Preserve at Spunky Bottoms is where the Conservancy’s Illinois River work began. The preserve was transformed from farmland to a thriving wetland, and today Spunky Bottoms is home to many species and is one of the most abundant populations of northern cricket frogs in Illinois.

What can I expect when I volunteer? 

  • Expect to either be working with or get clear guidance from experienced staff that has an intimate knowledge of the preserve. Tasks range from native seed collection and weed management, to invasive tree and brush removal.
  • Expect to learn about many new species of flora and fauna, state-of-the-art techniques in conservation and restoration, and the effects of fire and restoration on the landscape.
  • Expect lively camaraderie with folks who are intensely interested in the natural world and dedicated to its preservation.
  • Expect beautiful scenery, fresh air, working outside with your hands, and sleeping well the night after a workday.

When and where? 

  • Workdays are scheduled an on "as needed" basis. We will send an email to those who have signed up to be a volunteer.
  • Volunteers will work at either the Emiquon or Merwin Preserve depending on need. If you sign up, you will get an email with more specific meeting locations.

What shold I bring? 

  • Bring sturdy work shoes, long pants, work gloves, and a bottle of drinking water year-round. A brimmed hat and sunscreen are recommended in the summer.
  • All necessary equipment and tools will be provided.

How can I learn more? 

You can contact Sally McClure (smcclure@tnc.org) to request to be added to the workday notification email list. Check the Experience Emiquon website or call (309) 547-2730 to learn about specific stewardship units and activities or to find out about workday changes and cancellations.