Selfie of Cynthia Kanner (L) and Kerry Leigh

Where It All Began

By Cynthia Kanner, Executive Director, Prairie State Conservation Coalition

Just a week after starting my new dream-job with Prairie State Conservation Coalition (PSCC) on January 2nd, I visited Kerry Leigh, a longtime PSCC Board member. For those not aware, PSCC was founded by folks closely affiliated with NLI who wanted to see more support for conservation land trusts, especially with the struggles that the IL Department of Natural Resources was experiencing.  With thirty and more conservation land trust members to visit around the state, I wanted to get started right away with visiting people and places that support PSCC and preserve our beautiful land and water in Illinois, forever.  And, what better way to begin than in the home of the father of the natural areas movement, George Fell, subject matter of Force of Nature (which I was assigned to read as on-boarding for my job!)

Upon meeting Kerry in Rockford, just an hour’s drive from my home office in Algonquin, our first order of business was a tour of the home of George and Barbara Fell and the office of the Natural Land Institute.  What a special place and wonderful staff.  Being surrounded by all that history must be inspiring – preservation of an old home after all is a form of conservation.

At the confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica Rivers

After a house tour we headed off to the Carl and Myrna Nygren Wetland Preserve.  I really didn’t know what was in store – I just wanted to get my feet dirty, and what an amazing day for me it turned out to be!  I was astonished at the equipment, vehicles, and seeds housed on site and had a great time tooling around with Kerry in one of NLI’s Kubotas. Kerry is an excellent pilot and I was thrilled to be introduced to so much of the wetland in a short period of time.  The confluence of the Rock River and Pecatonica was just stunning, especially with snow still on the surrounding grounds.  Learning about the history of the area, the land stewards both staff and volunteer, the six-mile trail system open to the public, and all the special programs that take place for members sealed the deal – I will be back for more!

Rumage family barn at Lost Flora Fen on Raccoon Creek

After Nygren we went to another and newly acquired property – Lost Flora Fen on Raccoon Creek. The addition of 390 acres of protected land in the Raccoon Creek Watershed brings with it a whole lot of excitement from many. Direct from the website, “Lost Flora Fen is nestled along Raccoon Creek, midway between Nygren Wetland Preserve and the Wisconsin border and is a property containing many rare and endangered plants, as well as unusual butterflies, dragonflies and wildlife.” The possibilities there are very exciting, and again, the plan to welcome the public helps to connect people to the land that is protected.  With that awareness will come more protection and with it, which is always the hope, the ability and funding to continue stewarding the land in perpetuity.

My thanks goes to Kerry for introducing me to the first conservation land trust in Illinois and for a lovely visit, wonderful company and a delicious lunch out.  With her retirement just around the corner, I feel especially fortunate to have spent the day with her and wish her all the best!  I see volunteering in her future.

All photos by Cynthia Kanner

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