I married my childhood sweetheart, Deb, and we settled down in Naperville in 1984 and raised a family of six kids (2 boys, 4 girls). We now have 7 grandchildren as well.
I first got involved in scouting in 1994 when I became a Cubmaster for a local Cub Scout pack, and have remained involved in scouting ever since.
Discovering DuPage forest preserves
I’ve always had a keen interest in nature, and I’ve shared my love of the outdoors with my family by exploring the many DuPage forest preserves. With scouting, I’ve had the pleasure of taking many scouts on their first campout in a DuPage forest preserve. Blackwell and Greene Valley forest preserves have excellent camping for youth groups.
An April 2019 Cub Scout training campout at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve youth campground came with a surprise snowstorm. Luckily, hot chocolate came to the rescue! Photos courtesy of Greg Pronger
What Brings Him Back Time and Time Again
I’ll return from a weekend or weeklong trip with the scouts and turn around and head over to the local forest preserves. I love encountering wildlife or discovering signs of it in the preserves. Even in winter the woods and waters have plentiful birds to discover. Sometimes I’ll see a deer watching from over a hilltop, or run across animal tracks in the snow.
Once on a frigid winter hike through McDowell Grove Forest Preserve in Naperville not far from the river, I came across the remains of a raccoon. He was next to a tree, probably succumbing to the cold the prior night. His fur was frozen and clearly water-logged. His tracks led to the river.
Had he simply fallen in or was he chased by a predator like a coyote? Had he jumped in the water to escape the predator, only to succumb to its frigid temperature on the other side? A sad tale to be sure, and one that left me with a deeper understanding of nature’s balance and the struggle that wildlife face during the coldest months.
One evening coming back just after dark, my headlamp illuminated what I thought were 3 reflective markers a few feet above the trail not too far ahead. Then the “markers” moved and the three reflectors turned into six eyes peering back at me! After a moment (or two) of start, I realized it was a small herd of deer glancing at me as I approached.
Catching the Nature Bug
I grew up in Blue Island on Chicago’s south side, but even as a youth my passion was the outdoors. Throughout my life, I’ve pursued opportunities to explore nature, be it with family, scouting or education. I pursued environmental science and chemistry degrees in college, and now I’m an environmental chemist.
Favorite Things to Do in the Preserves
Whether with family, my dogs or by myself, hiking and fishing have long been my passions. As the saying goes, “The worst day fishing is better than the best day working” or “The worst day hiking is at least as good as the worst day fishing, and both beat the best day working!”
My family and I have caught bass, many panfish and a fair number of bullheads. But our best fish tale involved a carp. When my kids were growing up, we used to pack breakfast and head to McDowell Grove to fish and eat breakfast in the early morning. Having six kids, this was a bit of a production, with each kid carrying some gear and food.
We started fishing first, and I did a quick count of poles (parents do this) and discovered one was missing. It seemed that one of my sons had misplaced his rod somewhere between the car and our fishing spot, but he adamantly maintained that not only did he bring it, he had cast it in the river. I glanced at the bobbers and counted one more bobber than there were poles, and saw one moving steadily upstream. I grabbed a long stick, waded in and was able to snag his pole’s fishing line and retrieve his rod, and he proceeded to land a giant carp! It may not be a good eating catch, but it was a lot of fun to land and a lesson to Dad not to jump to conclusions.
Greg Pronger on a recent hike through McDowell Grove Forest Preserve in Naperville.
How Nature Inspires
It is in the respite of nature that I find myself stronger in my day-to-day life. It gives me a clearer mind when I head in to the lab (or office if that’s your situation). My attitude is significantly improved.
A lake at McDowell Grove Forest Preserve in Naperville, one of Pronger's favorites.
Advice to Others
I try to get out to the preserves either early in the morning or late in the day to improve my chances of a good catch or spotting wildlife. In the summer you also dodge the heat of the day, which helps make the experience more enjoyable. A bit of insect repellent also helps.
I have seen deer, coyote, raccoon, opossum, numerous squirrels, painted turtles, snapping turtles, soft-shelled turtles, beaver, muskrat, great blue and night herons, snowy egrets, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, a great horned owl, many species of duck, of course Canada geese, water snakes, garter snakes, fox snake, and many other critters.
At McDowell Grove in Naperville, one of my favorite hikes is to take the trail north and follow it all the way to Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve. It’s a nice hike through the woodlands of McDowell Grove past Mud Lake, and then along the West Branch DuPage River to Warrenville Grove Forest Preserve.
Another favorite, with a lot of natural beauty is Churchill Woods Forest Preserve in Glen Ellyn. It’s a smaller preserve, but it has a bridge to an island, very primitive single-track trails, and a beaver dam.
Pronger and his dog, Polaris, like the primitive single-track trails at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve in Glen Ellyn. Photo courtesy of Greg Pronger
For a longer hike I head to Pratt’s Wayne Woods (the District’s largest) or Blackwell forest preserve. Pratt’s has a variety of terrain from open prairie to woodlands, while at Blackwell I anxiously await the reopening of the northern section after the District completes its restoration of Spring Brook Creek. Both Pratt Wayne and Blackwell are good spots for anglers as well.
Pratt's Wayne Woods in Wayne is one of Greg Pronger's favorite preserves.