CRTI Urban Forestry Awards

CRTI recognizes outstanding organizations and individuals in the Chicago region.

Content Detail

CRTI recognizes public and private organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond this past year on behalf of the regional forest and the residents who live here.

CRTI is looking for nominations for our annual Urban Forestry Awards! Nominate an organization and/or individual who can be used as an example for others to aspire to. We all can make a difference in the regional forest, and we should recognize those that go above and beyond.

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

Winners will be announced at our annual partner recognition celebration in early winter.

Nominations can be made year-round!


Nominations can be made for the following:

  • The award goes to people or 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).

  • The award for outstanding management of a natural area(s).

  • The award celebrates stewardship and advocacy for natural areas on private property.

  • The award celebrates stewardship and advocacy for natural areas on public property.

  • The award celebrates partners who work across the region to engage residents and land managers in forestry matters.

  • The award goes to partners who make great strides in inspiring the next generation.

  • Separate from the other categories, the Golden Shovel is a special award that recognizes an individual for their outstanding forestry work.

  • This award recognizes an individual who worked hard to reach and engage local residents in the mission to save the urban forest.

Congratulations to the 2021 CRTI Urban Forestry Award Winners!

Accordion List

  • 2021 Winner: Urban Forestry Basic Training, Tricia Bethke, Shawn Kingzette, Don Roppollo, Eduardo Medina, Phil Prohaska, Eric Menigut, and Steve Lane.

    In 2015, the CRTI Tree Risk Assessment and Management Work Group addressed the challenge of non-forestry 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.

  • 2021 Winners: 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.
    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.

  • 2021 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.

  • 2021 Winners: Kevin O’Toole and Mike Rizo
    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. By the end of summer, the kids worked more than 2,000 hours planting and caring for 22 trees and building picnic tables, compost bins, a pond, and garden signs.

  • 2021 Winners: Kendall County Forest Preserve District and Lake 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.

    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.

2021 Golden Shovel Awards

  • 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.

  • 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.

Congratulations to the 2020 CRTI Urban Forestry Award Winners!

Accordion List

  • 2020 Winner: Go Green Deerfield, Deerfield Park District, and the Deerfield Sustainability Coalition.

    Go Green Deerfield created a #TreeCanopyChallenge for Deerfield residents to plant 2 trees per yard (aprox 12,000 trees) by 2025. They collaborated with the Deerfield Park District and Sustainability Commission to plant trees in our community, showcased native trees on a Sustainable Yard Tour, and educated residents about native trees and removing invasives like Buckthorn. They are working with the Deerfield Park District to increase our canopy by adding native Trees and have worked with the Village of Deerfield to promote the cost share parkway tree program. They also provided a free arborist-led tree walk and worked with the Park District to distribute tree whips to residents. 2020 slowed their progress, but they still managed to build relationships with various local entities and hosted a virtual native yard walk reaching with over 200 residents.

  • 2020 Winner: Paula Kosin, for her Master Naturalist Tree Tagging Project. 

    Paula distributed info packets to every townhouse (104) in her community. She then spent two weeks tieing a tag to every tree, obtaining the species from an online map on the Downers Grove village website identifying all 23,000 parkway trees and labeling their fall color with duct tape and markers. In the process, she engaged more than 10 neighbors about the value of trees. She also provided an educational tree talk and an interactive experience with the tags for a group of children.

  • 2020 Winner: The City of Highwood

    For their efforts communicating with residents and inspiring them to value and plant trees. In partnership with CRTI, Community Development Analyst for the City of Highwood, Dustin Anand, went above and beyond to find locations on public and private property for 150 trees and helped coordinate virtual tree planting training so residents could lead the planting of their own trees for safe, well-spaced planting events across 2020 and 2021.

  • 2020 Winner: Chicago Voyagers

    For empowering at-risk youth through outdoor experiential adventures that foster healthy relationships and responsible behavior. Chicago Voyagers believe in the potential of all teens regardless of race, socio-economic status, gender, ability, creed, or sexual orientation and aspire to support our youth in overcoming societal injustices that lead to differences in opportunity. Despite a complicated year, they still managed to provide programming and opportunities for their students.