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Kane Forest Preserve a place for healing after war

Ben Haberthur Vietnam vet is charge Veterans ConservatiCorps Kane County Forest Preserves program thlet returning veterans.help with projects Kane forest

Ben Haberthur, a Vietnam vet, is in charge of the Veterans Conservation Corps in Kane County Forest Preserves, a program that let returning veterans.help with projects at Kane forest preserves. He shows an oak savanna restoration project on Thursday, November 8, 2012 at the Dick Young Forest Preserve in Batavia. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 12, 2012 6:36AM



When Ben Haberthur got back from the war in Iraq, his first try at refuge was college.

“But I found it hard to reacclimate, to identify with other people,” he says. “So I turned to nature, like I had at other times in my life.”

With a backpack and hiking shoes, he hit the backwoods near his home at the time, Monterrey, Calif., even spending time in the beauty of the Big Sur area.

Now a Batavia resident, Haberthur finds the same sense of refuge in the beauty of the native prairies and marshes of the Midwest, particularly at the Dick Young Forest Preserve on Main Street west of Batavia.

And he is trying to share that with other veterans through the Veterans Conservation Corps of Chicagoland, which Haberthur established this year after receiving a $10,000 TogetherGreen fellowship grant.

TogetherGreen is a conservation initiative of the National Audubon Society and Toyota. Each year, the group selects 40 high-potential, local leaders to receive a $10,000 conservation grant. Haberthur, who is a restoration ecologist with the Kane County Forest Preserve District, was one of four award recipients from Illinois this year.

He wrote a proposal to get the grant, with the idea of having other veterans serve as volunteers working in the forest preserves — and perhaps finding the work a refuge, as it is for him. The veteran volunteers also help the preserves by providing needed volunteer work.

And when the work is finished, there’s usually a barbecue at the end of the day, which provides fellowship for Harberthur and his fellow veterans.

“What we do out here is strong, hard work,” Haberthur says. “And we definitely need the help at the forest preserve. For me personally, it has helped me get more connected to veterans in this area.”

Recently, the veteran volunteers helped clear brush from an oak grove at Dick Young, which will allow the younger oaks to grow around several mature oaks that are more than 100 years old.

Haberthur never met Dick Young, who died within the last year, but he had heard of him in the conservation community. After beginning work for the Forest Preserve District, he found out about Young’s heroic actions as a World War II veteran at Iwo Jima.

Young was a former Marine who dedicated his life to conservation.

“I realized that was me, too,” Haberthur said.

Haberthur joined the Marines in 1999, and was done with his work and back in California, in the reserves, when the events of 9/11 happened. He was called back into active duty, and was among the Marines in the first waves into Iraq, encountering heavy fighting during the “shock and awe” period.

As far as the work goes at the forest preserve, the goals of the program are to remove invasive weeds and restore marsh conditions preferred by native wildlife at Dick Young. The 1.6-acre prairie pothole on the west side of the preserve will be restored to pre-settlement conditions, including the planting of native wetland species, according to district officials.

On the east side of the preserve, hundreds of red oaks and bur oaks will be planted as part of an ongoing restoration effort by the Forest Preserve District. That will be some of the work going on at the next event, from 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 8.

For reservations or more information, call Haberthur at 630-649-1149.



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