Wander along the Des Plaines River in Riverside’s First Division — the area that arcs along the southern tip of the village from the Riverside Swim Club to Swan Pond Park — and you might see hundreds and hundreds of small saplings, maybe a foot tall.
Those little trees aren’t there by accident. The oaks and hickories and maples and walnuts were planted over the last seven years by volunteers participating in the “1,000 Tree Planting Project,” organized each year by Riverside resident Tom Sisulak.
If he knew back in 2007 what he knew now, Sisulak might have come up with a different name for his project, which celebrates its eighth year in 2014.
Of course back then, the idea of a group of volunteers planting a whopping total of 1,000 trees in the wooded area that curls around the southern tip of the village seemed ambitious enough.
When the sun sets on his 8th annual tree-planting this weekend, Sisulak and his volunteers will have planted their 10,000th tree seed in Riverside.
“These trees will be in Riverside for people to enjoy for 100 to 200 years in the future,” said the retired high school teacher, avid runner and gymnastics coach.
Sisulak is inviting volunteers — scout troops, families, church groups, students — to take part in the next 1,000 Tree Planting Project, which is scheduled for this Saturday, Nov. 22.
Volunteers are asked to meet at Riverside United Methodist Church, 82 Woodside Road, at 10 a.m. The first hour and a half will be spent inside, getting acquainted with the tree-planting tools invented by Sisulak and hearing from Riverside Village Forester Michael Collins.
The tools make planting easy, Sisulak said, which makes the project suitable for volunteers of all ages. He says he’s had participants as young as 1 and as old as 101.
There will also be a presentation by representatives from the Midwest SOARRING Foundation, who will teach about the attitude of Native American culture toward caring for the Earth.
One of those participating for the first time in 2014 is Natalie Laczek, a recent Riverside resident and environmental law attorney who first learned about the event through Riverside Farmers Market’s Facebook page.
Soon after that, she saw a man in a wooded area near the river snipping branches off saplings — it was Sisulak.
“I think ultimately it’s a great initiative,” said Laczek. “It’s a nice way to combine the community and the church community to keep Riverside the way it was intended to be from the beginning. And it’s a model that can be applied to other places.”
Laczek, who is on the planning committee for the One Earth Film Fest, also hopes she and Sisulak can convince student filmmakers in grades 3-12 to produce an 8- to 10-minute film about the Riverside project and submit it to the film fest. Details can be found at www.greencommunityconnections.org.
Around 11:30 a.m., teams of volunteers will head outside with a milk jug filled with 100 assorted tree seeds that have been harvested and sorted by Sisulak himself.
“I’ve collected between 5,000 and 8,000 seeds and sorted out the best 1,000,” he said. “There are 20 different varieties.”
Using the tools Sisulak invented 40 years ago, teams will plant the seeds in the wooded areas, starting near the swim club and then following the river past the Scout Cabin and Indian Gardens and onto the hilly slopes of Swan Pond Park.
For the first time this year, volunteers will head outside of the First Division and plant seeds along the banks of the river east of the Swinging Bridge along Riverside Road.
Last year, helped by a Chicago Tribune article, 207 volunteers were on hand, planting 3,000 seeds.
The planting takes about three hours, said Sisulak. Afterward, volunteers are invited back to Riverside United Methodist Church for a chili dinner provided by church members.
For Sisulak, the 1,000 Tree Planting Project is a great way for volunteers, especially kids to connect with the outdoors and for families to do something together.
“It’s a great way for families to get out in the woods,” he said.