Frequently Asked Questions about NLI and Our Work

How Did Natural Land Institute Get Started?

A: The Natural Land Institute was organized in 1958 as a private, not-for-profit charitable corporation by George B. Fell. In 1950, George wrote, “We are living at the time of man’s final conquest over the wilderness. What we have saved, and what we may save in the next few years, will be all the true wild nature that will remain to pass on from generation to generation in the years ahead. There will never be another chance.”

Under George Fell’s leadership, Illinois was the first state to establish by legislation a system of dedicated nature preserves. George wrote the legislation and founded the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission. Under his leadership, the Natural Land Institute played a key role in the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory, a project of the Department of Natural Resources completed in 1978. The inventory was designed to locate the existing natural areas in Illinois and identify their owners. NLI helped implement a blueprint for preservation action, the Illinois Natural Areas Plan, published in 1980 by the Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, and Endangered Species Protection Board.

The mission of the Natural Land Institute is to create an enduring legacy of natural land in northern Illinois for people, plants and animals. We do this by preserving forests, prairies and wetlands for native plants and animals, restoring habitat for wildlife, protecting rivers and streams for fish and other aquatic species, educating people about their part in in nature, and providing opportunities to enjoy natural areas to enrich the lives of residents of northern Illinois. Since 1958, NLI has protected, managed and restored more than 16,000 acres of prairies, forests, wetlands and river corridors in Illinois and southern Wisconsin. These lands serve as refuges for plants and animals, and they are a natural heritage that will become more precious to each succeeding generation.

The Nygren Wetland Preserve restoration project is our first large-scale effort to restore natural communities. It is part of a larger network of interconnected natural land and working landscapes in the Rock and Mississippi River. This is an exciting time for NLI, as land conservation moves into the ecosystem restoration phase. There are still natural areas to preserve, but our focus and the future of land conservation in the area, is expanding from preservation of the few remaining natural areas to ecosystem restoration.

How can I learn more about NLI’s work?

A:& When you become a member you will receive our newsletter, Land & Nature, three times a year that features articles about our land protection projects, land stewardship activities, and educational programs. We also email monthly updates about special events, volunteer opportunities and other news. Click here to learn about becoming a member.

Where does NLI focus its land preservation efforts?

A: NLI’s service area is the twelve northern Illinois counties of Boone, Buereau, Carroll, Dekalb, Henry, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Rock Island, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago.

Is the Nygren Wetland Preserve open to visitors?

A: Yes, the Dianne Nora Nature Trail is a 2.5 mile loop that is open year-around for hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, and the Nygren Wetland Preserve. A parking area is located 1 ½ miles west of Rockton, Illinois on Rockton Road. Turn south where Rockton Road and Hansberry Road intersect. An overlook with a spotting scope is near the trailhead. The trail is only closed during the peak of migration to protect rare species of birds. Learn more about Nygren Wetland.

Who should I talk to if I own a piece of property or know of a piece of property that should be protected?

A: Please e-mail the NLI staff at

What is a conservation easement?

A: A conservation easement is a restriction placed on a piece of property to protect its conservation values. The easement is either voluntarily donated or sold by the landowner and constitutes a legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place on the land in perpetuity while the land remains in private hands. Conservation easements protect land for future generations while allowing owners to retain many private property rights and to live on and use their land, at the same time potentially providing them with financial benefits.

How can I become a member of Natural Land Institute?

A:Please follow this link to our membership page.

Who should I contact if my address has changed?

A: Please e-mail Jill Kennay at

How do I make a gift in memory of someone who has passed away?

A: Please mail your gift to our office at 320 South Third Street, Rockford, IL 61104 with any instructions on how you would like the gift to be used. You also have the option of donating online.

How do I make a gift in memory of someone who has passed away?

A: A significant portion of NLI’s funding comes from individual donors — people who make contributions of $35, $100, $1,000 or more. Other sources of income include bequests and planned gifts, corporate and foundation gifts, gifts of land and conservation easements, and income from our endowments and other invested funds. To see our latest audited financial statements, please visit this page.

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