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CRTI Urban Forestry Awards

CRTI recognizes public and private organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond this past year on behalf of our regional forest and the residents who live here. We are asking for your assistance to nominate an organization and/or individual who can be used as an example for others to aspire to. 

Please nominate an organization, individual, or even your own organization or yourself (no need to be shy!). You may make multiple nominations.

Nominations can be made year-round!

If there are any questions, please contact Melissa (


Congratulations to the 2021 CRTI Urban Forestry Award Winners!

Community Stewardship Award
The Community Stewardship Award for community champions who go the extra mile to advocate for trees in their community
winner: Restore Blue Island's Tree Canopy - Val Kehoe, Ald. Bill Fahrenwald 
Val Kehoe reached out to the Aldermen in her ward, Bill Fahrenwald, and formed Restore Blue Island's Tree Canopy. Together they raised money from residents in Blue Island to help get trees to plant all over the City. Val then got so many different groups involved from the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, The Morton Arboretum, Possibility Place Nursery, Openlands, and more to get trees donated over the last four years. The results? They have planted well over 200 trees throughout the City of Blue Island. Residents are able to sign up for trees and they sign a pledge to keep them watered. In working with these groups, they have been able to diversify the tree canopy and get the types of trees that will do well in this area.
Forestry Outreach Award
The Forestry Outreach Award celebrates partners who work across the region to engage residents and land managers in forestry matters.
winner: Oak Street Health
To celebrate the opening of its 100th center, Oak Street Health committed to planting 100 trees across the Chicago region. Through their support, the benefits of urban trees were brought to residents of Chicago (Englewood and Edgewater), Waukegan, Flossmoor, and Blue Island. In addition to engaging community members and volunteers, this partnership also engaged students from elementary through high school in Blue Island and Waukegan, educating the next generation of community tree champions around the human health and quality of life benefits that trees generate.
Partnership Award
The Partnership Award celebrates groups working collaboratively to solve a forestry problem (e.g. need for next generation of arborists, low canopy in priority area, reuse of urban wood).
winners: Urban Forestry Basic Training presenters
In 2015, the CRTI Tree Risk Assessment and Management Work Group addressed the challenge of non-forestestry professionals tasked with working on and near trees, which frequently leads to unintended damage and increased tree mortality. Their solution was a two day training on basic forestry skills and information taught by a variety of local expert volunteers. These experts have been coming together twice per year since 2015 to train 500 people at 14 locations around the region - and once in southern Illinois. Besides providing their knowledge and time, these instructors have connected with students, sharing their career pathways, and inspiring new tree huggers to enter the field. Thank you to these wonderful instructors: 
Tricia Bethke, USDA APHIS and TMA
Shawn Kingzette, The Davey Tree Expert Company
Eduardo Medina, The Davey Tree Expert Company
Phil Prohaska, Forest Preserves of Cook County
Eric Menigut, Forest Preserves of Cook County
Steve Lane, Great Lakes Urban Forestry Management
Public Natural Areas Award
The Public Natural Areas Award celebrates stewardship and advocacy for natural areas on public property.
winner 1: Kendall county Forest Preserve District
Kendall County Forest Preserve District acquired the 168-acre Fox River Bluffs Forest Preserve in 2015 with an overall goal to restore 99 acres of the former farmland to prairie and a reforested natural area. In 2020, they planted trees on roughly 47-acres of the Preserve in Yorkville, IL. After five years of analysis and preparation, the District and community volunteers planted 31,000 native trees and shrubs in April 2020! Their restoration activities have continued with several phases and activities planned for the rest of the preserve, including invasive species removal and broadcast seeding in 66 acres of the preserve containing high-quality natural resources including oak-dominated bluffs and ravines, seeps, and Fox River shoreline.
winner 2: Lake County Forest Preserve District 
Lake County Forest Preserve has taken a very active stance against invasive species and the protection of one of their highest quality preserves - Middlefork Savanna. They started this work in 2015, and with the help of US Forest Service social scientists, surveyed residents to determine their level of understanding of the impacts of invasive species, their awareness and ability to identify these species, and ascertain their willingness to actively help remove it. They have continued this effort, property owner by property owner slowly eradicating invasive species. 
CRTI Youth Engagement Award
The Youth Engagement Award celebrates partners who make great strides in inspiring the next generation.
winner: Kevin O’Toole and Mike Rizo for their 2021 Summer Garden Program at Morton Freshman Center in Cicero
description: In continuation of a long term, Smithsonian award winning pollinator garden project, Biology teacher Kevin O’Toole led a cohort of 50 high school students in a 2021 Summer Garden Program this past summer at the Morton Freshman Center in Cicero. In addition to maintaining and studying the 5000 sq ft Monarch Waystation, the cohort of students planted trees in June and cared for them all summer, coming to campus at least three days a week. Byu the end of summer, the kids worked more than 2000 hours planting and caring for 22 trees and building picnic tables, compost bins, a pond, and garden signs.
CRTI Community Tree Champions Recognition
In recognition of volunteers who have made our work possible
Thank you to all of the volunteers who’ve joined us this year! We appreciate all of the time and effort you’ve given this year and years past. I’d like to take a moment to give special recognition to two volunteers who’ve gone above and beyond.
Jim O’Hara - Jim has taken the lead in helping us record trees with our new Canopy Counts Program. Thank you for your support in helping to guide and grow this exciting program!
Curtis Fahlberg - Curtis has become a staple at CRTI tree plantings in 2021. Thank you for committing your time to planting trees and engaging with community members to help enrich our urban forest. 
Forest Advocate of the Year/golden shovel
Forest Advocate of the Year is recognized for making great strides in advocating for trees and the urban forest through education, training, communication, and policy work
winner: Dr. Lynne Westphal
Habitat is important for wildlife, but humans need good habitat, too. Lynne Westphal has been a research social scientist with the US Forest Service for thirty years, working to help planners, municipal employees, elected officials, nonprofits, tree advocates, and others understand how to manage natural resources to improve quality of life and achieve environmental justice. Her invaluable leadership in Chicago Wilderness and the Chicago Region Trees Initiative are just the tips of the iceberg. Her research has helped identify connections between canopy cover at schools and academic achievement, demonstrate a lasting connection to nature for children with positive nature experiences, and pinpoint drivers of community support for restoration efforts. In the RESTORE project, her team is investigating connections between the social structure of groups making ecological restoration decisions and biodiversity of the restoration sites. 
Her research has benefited numerous organizations and people, but she is also involved more directly with regional urban forestry efforts. The Urban Waters Partnership reconnects urban communities, particularly those that are overburdened or economically distressed, with their waterways through community-led revitalization efforts that improve our Nation's water systems and promote their economic, environmental and social benefits.
Forester of the Year/golden shovel
Forester of the Year manages an innovative and successful forestry program that improves the health of the urban forest in the Chicago Region
winner: Steve Ludwig
After 25 years of service to the Village of Algonquin as Public Works Superintendent and Master Arborist, Steve Ludwig has retired into a second arboricultural career in the private sector. Steve is a Board Certified Master Arborist, but he didn’t stop at achieving the highest credential available to arborists. He has used his expertise to help others grow professionally as a mentor, for his own staff and for neighboring communities, and through numerous training in all aspects of public works as a member of the American Public Works Association and the Illinois Arborist Association. In fact, Steve is known regionally as such a valuable speaker and mentor that he founded a speaking company to manage the requests for his talents. Most forestry professionals in the region can remember some time in their career when Steve has inspired them whether during a presentation that includes the phrase, ‘there’s poop in my lollipop!’ or in personal interactions when you walk away ready to continue growing.

See previous winners here