Cook County Forest Preserves’ Tree Repurposed for Unique Award Plaques

By Cherie LeBlanc Fisher

In July 2017, Chicago Wilderness presented its first-ever Force of Nature Awards to 10 people and organizations doing outstanding work on behalf of the environment across the region. The physical awards given to the recipients were as unique and special as the awardees themselves and a remarkable example of wood reutilization.

Each award plaque is a large “tree cookie” with the bark left around the outer edge. The tree came from a Forest Preserves of Cook County site.

Forest Preserves of Cook County sign shop foreman Roy McNaughton designed and created them by hand. Each is about the size of  a large dinner plate: roughly 12 inches in diameter and approximately 1.5 inches thick. Each award is unique in shape, color and wood grain.

McNaughton began the transformation by using a belt sander to smooth the rough, chainsaw-cut organic surface of each cookie. Since both sides would display text for the final awards, McNaughton said they required multiple passes with various grits of sand paper to create a smooth surface. He then sealed the wood with numerous coats of clear urethane. The Chicago Wilderness logo and text were printed on a clear vinyl laminate and an additional layer of clear gloss laminate was applied to seal and protect the text. The adhesive-backed graphics were carefully cut and transferred to each cookie.

The back of each award received another laminate sheet that reads, “The Chicago Wilderness Force of Nature Awards recognize people and organizations whose environmental conservation, restoration, advocacy, and/or educational activities extend above and beyond the ordinary and are inspirational examples for others.”

McNaughton estimated that it took him about 60 hours to create all 10 award plaques. The Forest Preserves of Cook County, one of the lead partners in the Chicago Wilderness alliance, generously donated the tree from which the cookies were cut plus Roy’s time, tools and labor to create the awards.

I had the pleasure to emcee the Chicago Wilderness awards ceremony at the Chicago Botanic Garden in July. Recipients were delighted with the tree cookie plaques and eager to display them at their respective organizations.

Learn more about Chicago Wilderness’ 2017 Force of Nature & Excellence in Ecological Restoration Program.

Cherie LeBlanc Fisher works for the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station. Her current projects include the Forest Service’s Urban Forest Inventory program to collect tree and land use data in the Chicago region. She also participates in the Chicago Region Tree’s Initiative’s Tree Stewardship and Planting Team.