From Aldo Leopold’s Shack in Wisconsin to Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future

Back in the spring of 2011, during the Sustainability Studies program’s first academic year at Roosevelt, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 The Sustainable Future class created a web-based research project entitled Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future. The idea here was to develop a space for ongoing research, writing, and discussion about the present challenges and future prospects for creating more sustainable communities in the northwest suburbs of Chicago — especially in Schaumburg and its immediate neighbors.

Restored prairie at Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary, Schaumburg IL (M. Bryson)

While this web project is just over a year old, its philosophical roots go back many decades, to the writings and conservation work of Aldo Leopold, whose seminal essay “The Land Ethic” argues that conservation is not merely a scientific enterprise, but fundamentally involves creating a more ethically sound relation between us and the natural environment.

This summer while on vacation in south-central Wisconsin, Professor Bryson stopped by the Leopold Shack, located on the worn-out farm Leopold purchased near the Wisconsin River in the 1930s and began restoring with his family as a conservation experiment during his time as a science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The shack was a chicken coop that Leopold fashioned into a rustic cabin, and served as a weekend retreat as well as the setting for his classic book, A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, published posthumously in 1949.

Aldo Leopold’s shack, north of Baraboo WI — now a National Historic Landmark and one of the most important conservation-related sites in the Midwest (M. Bryson)

Now a National Historic Landmark managed by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, this humble shack — like Henry David Thoreau’s little cabin near Walden Pond outside of Concord, MA — not only has earned an enduring reputation as a site with great literary and historical significance, its humble nature and small scale are contemporary reminders of the importance of thrift and economy as the means for living lightly on the land.

In an age of supersized consumerism, the Leopold Shack shocks one into the realization that it is both possible and necessary to treat the landscape with respect by living lightly upon it, with acute knowledge of the impact we make daily upon soil, water, and fellow organisms.

For more photos of the Leopold Shack, see this album on the SUST Program’s Facebook page. And be sure to visit Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future, as well, to explore how NW suburban communities in the Chicago region are doing in their quest to conserve energy, create more open space, improve water quality, develop better transportation options, improve access to local/organic food, and other key challenges inherent to making contemporary suburbs more environmentally sustainable over the long haul.

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