Thank you for reading. For many people, Nature starts with a capital N. When they think of meaningful experiences in the outdoors, their minds may turn toward grand vistas in national parks and long road trips to faraway destinations. But what might be most beneficial for our health and environment is finding nature, with a lowercase n, closer to home—such as the 31,000-plus acres that make up the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.
This blog is an effort to keep readers informed of current natural events and offer suggestions for exploring nature in Lake County, Illinois.
About the author Jen Berlinghof is a graduate of Loyola University and The National Outdoor Leadership School, as well as a Certified Interpretive Guide through The National Association of Interpretation. Her work as an outdoor guide and naturalist has taken her from the canyon lands of Utah to the shores of Lake Superior. Since 2003, she has been discovering nature near her hometown and working as an Environmental Educator for the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois.
About the editor Brett Peto has served as Environmental Communications Specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves in northern Illinois since 2017. A graduate of Elmhurst College in 2015, Peto edits copy, selects and retouches photos, and ponders the Latin roots of species names in his spare time. Ever since his first science column in the college newspaper, Peto has found fun in the broad accessibility and deep understanding of complex subjects that effective science writing requires.
Guest author Andrew Rutter joined the Natural Resources Department of the Lake County Forest Preserves as a Wildlife Biologist in 2016. But he was already a familiar face, as he had worked as a Southern Illinois University wildlife field technician in various forest preserves. Andrew has a Bachelor’s Degree from Emporia State University and recently received his Master’s Degree from SIU with the Cooperative Wildlife Research Lab studying river otter ecology.
Guest author Alyssa Firkus joined the Education Department of the Lake County Forest Preserves as an Education Manager in October 2018. Alyssa holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Humboldt State University and a Master’s Degree in Environmental Education from Western Washington University. Her work in environmental education has taken her around the world, from Australia to Alaska. She now enjoys going on local adventures with her family.
Guest author Nan Buckardt, a long-time Lake County Forest Preserves employee, has seen many changes to the preserves during her career. As Director of Education, she puts her B.S. in Zoology and M.S. in Education to good use. The Education Department team helps tell Lake County’s natural and human history story. Nan spends much of her free time in nature with her family, especially enjoying birdwatching.
Guest author Pati Vitt joined the Natural Resources Department of the Lake County Forest Preserves in late 2018. She holds a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of Connecticut, an M.S. in Botany & Plant Pathology from the University of Maine, and a B.A. from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Having grown up botanically in Maine, she considers plants that are found in boreal forests as old friends, and is happy when she finds them and other new friends in Lake County. Prior to joining the Forest Preserves, Pati worked for nearly 20 years as a Conservation Scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Guest author Ken Klick has worked as a Restoration Ecologist at the Lake County Forest Preserves for 25 years. He finds joy and solace in looking at birds. His career has involved restoring and managing native plants and animals for more than 40 years.
Guest author Eileen Davis, Environmental Educator, has variously served the Lake County Forest Preserves as an intern, volunteer and staff member since 1997. She earned her B.S. in Zoology and Environmental Biology from Eastern Illinois University, and an M.S. in Environmental Education and Interpretation from University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. Eileen teaches people of all ages about Lake County’s diverse ecosystems, and the plants and animals that call them home. In her free time, she enjoys tending her home garden and traveling in search of new nature adventures.
Guest author April Vaos has been an Environmental Educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves since 2004. She holds a degree in Environmental Studies from Gustavus Adolphus College and focuses on scout, school and boating programs. Since childhood, April has lived in many places—from the rural areas of Minnesota to the city—and loves finding nature all around her, from the prairies of Illinois to a patch of grass on the road.
Guest author Jenny Sazama has created and led programs as an Environmental Educator with the Lake County Forest Preserves for almost two decades. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. In her role as a National Association for Interpretation Certified Interpretive Guide Trainer, Jenny has mentored many volunteers and others interested in the profession. You’ll often find her guiding nature paddle programs on Forest Preserve waterways in a canoe, kayak and even a 34-foot replica voyageur canoe! On her days off, Jenny enjoys taking her dog on long, scenic walks to find wildflowers, romp in the water and be present in the healing power of the natural world. The Great Lakes are a favorite destination.