Man Follows Passion for Nature into Forest Preserves
Volunteer, outdoor enthusiast
I'm a project manager for Allstate and pretty much sit at my desk most of the day, so I try to get outdoors as much as possible. My hobbies/interests include hiking, cycling, kayaking and fishing. I have a son who lives in eastern Washington state. Unlike his dad, my son followed his passion and pursued a degree in environmental sciences.
My son is currently the data manager for the Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach at Washington State University and loves it. He interacts with various research teams throughout the world. His masters program was on the redwoods in California and I was lucky enough to experience some of his research up close. When I was in high school I considered the environmental science field but was steered away from it by my counselor, mostly because of the low pay and lack of funding for these types of positions. Although I don't regret my decision to get a business degree, I often wonder how rewarding a position in the environmental sciences field would have been. To satisfy that desire to some extent, I became a volunteer ranger at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in 2009. I'm also a protect your waters boating monitor with the Forest Preserve District and help clean up Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve’s Graue Mill. Both volunteer positions are extremely rewarding and I enjoy the interaction with the participants.
I guess my love of nature started when my Dad took me perch fishing on Lake Michigan when I was 7 or 8. I still cherish those memories with my dad. Although the area we fished wasn't set in a true natural setting, I believe it planted the seed. I was the only one of 6 kids in my family who fell in love with fishing and nature. My discovery of the DuPage forest preserves actually occurred after I became a volunteer (after my son encouraged me to do so). Prior to becoming a volunteer, I had very little contact with the forest preserves. My volunteer position actually made me realize how many outdoor activities were available so close to home. Before that, most of my outdoor activities were spent in Wisconsin, Canada and on Lake Michigan.
Virtually all of my outdoor activities now — hiking, fishing, wading and kayaking — can be done in DuPage forest preserves. I also love introducing kids to wading and fishing in Salt Creek through District programs. Obviously, the water level needs to be low, but they love the experience of getting their feet wet while fishing. It's extremely rewarding to be part of that first experience with them and see the excitement of them catching a fish while standing in water. At our fishing events, I always try to zero in on the kids who have never fished or have never been lucky enough to catch a fish. I want to make sure they get that opportunity to feel the tug of a fish at the end of their line.
Probably my favorite activity is wet wading Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods or Saw Mill Creek at Waterfall Glen in the summer. I love the feel of the water flowing through my legs, while wearing shorts and water sandals. My primary focus is fishing, but I also monitor Salt Creek for zebra mussels and pick up trash. Although most of the fish are small, it's not about the fish, it's the experience. The Forest Preserve District previously offered an "Off the Beaten Path" fishing program that I always volunteered for. The experience of fishing in an area with less foot traffic has always been attractive to me. I love catching and hearing the sounds of the wildlife, whether it’s the hoot of an owl at dusk, the soaring of a bald eagle at Waterfall Glen, or the rescue of a softshell turtle that was upside down and wedged between a dead fall and rock at Graue Mill. Hiking in winter with a decent snowfall and a chill in the air is my favorite winter activity. I also love walking frozen lakes and cleaning up fishing stuff (hooks, sinkers, line, etc.) hanging in the trees. Unfortunately I have seen a number of birds in the trees that have died after getting tangled in line or grabbing a hook with a worm on it.
The biggest benefits I get from being outdoors in nature are stress relief and exercise. Both help with my physical, mental and emotional health. When I'm alone, it's one of the few times I'm able to reflect on my life. I love the Salt Creek trail for biking and the Fullersburg Woods trails for hiking. I also try to fish or hike just before dusk; it’s a good opportunity to possibly hear an owl hoot.
My advice to others is to get out there and try something simple, like a hike. If possible, try it just before dusk when wildlife is more active or in the winter when your viewing isn't as hindered from leaves on trees. Taking a child is also a good choice. I love sharing my passion of the outdoors with children. They are full of questions and excited by seeing wildlife. Having them bond with nature at an early age is also a plus. The forest preserves are an excellent option since they are close to home and involve little to no cost. They also offer a number of free programs that can help you expand your options. Check out the Forest Preserve District website for all the available options, or better yet, attend one of the many open houses to get firsthand knowledge about what is available.
I'm a big supporter of protecting our natural resources, so experiencing it — even in my local forest preserves — helps me appreciate it and understand how human activity can impact it. The old saying "You don't know what you have until it is gone" really hits home. Hopefully there is less of a chance people will litter or be wasteful if they spend more time in nature. Studies have also shown that spending time in nature makes us healthier and happier.