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Good Natured: Kane County course to offer naturalist certification

Introductory session nears

Ready, set, net! Learn about local streams as well as other area ecosystems during the yearlong nature education program for adults that trains them to be Kane County certified naturalists.
Ready, set, net! Learn about local streams as well as other area ecosystems during the yearlong nature education program for adults that trains them to be Kane County certified naturalists.

When was the last time you looked – I mean realllllly looked – at the shape and size of a tree bud? Or paused to observe whether the tree’s branches were alternate or opposite?

When you look at a prairie, do you wonder what’s going on in the soil below? Are you curious how the plants survive – thrive, even – following a prescribed burn?

When you see a snake on a path, do you head toward it instead of making a dash in the opposite direction?

If any of these endeavors sound familiar, golly, do I have a deal for you.

Kane County Certified Naturalists, our area’s award-winning conservation education program, is gearing up for its 12th year of classes, field trips and fun. Part outdoor education, part social network and part self-help group for incurable nature nerds, KCCN is a yearlong program designed for adults who want to learn more about the natural history of our great county and also find out about ways to put that knowledge to good use.

The program kicks off Jan. 15 with the first of six core courses that are held from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday nights. We begin with an overview of ecology, then in subsequent weeks take a look at the interrelationships that occur in Kane County woodlands, prairies and wetlands.

After four weeks, you’ll know which ecosystem is more endangered than the tropical rainforests and why earthworms are unwelcome in the woods, among other amazing threads of knowledge that together weave a tapestry of interconnections guaranteed to knock your Smartwool socks off.

During week five, we present the topic of geology, taking a broad view of plate tectonics and continental drift and then narrowing it down to specific examples of how the most recent Ice Age shaped our Kane County topography. We wrap up with the Community Connections class, where we apply what we’ve learned to see what can happen when urban planning and the natural world intersect.

These classroom sessions – each of which begins with a potluck supper – are followed by four Saturday field trips. In April, we’ll hike the glacial-borne hills of Hickory Knolls; in early May, we’ll revel in the glory of woodland wildflowers at Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn; later that month, we’ll explore the aquatic ecosystems of ponds and streams at Creek Bend Nature Center, which is located within LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles; and in June, we’ll prowl the prairie at Peck Farm Park in Geneva.

From there, you’ll have until April 2020 to complete an additional 30 hours of advanced coursework (our Learn from the Experts classes or courses from other approved providers) and/or volunteer service at any of three participating agencies – the Kane County Forest Preserve District, the Geneva Park District and St. Charles Park District. After that, it’s on to graduation and your new life as an official KCCNer. Your one-time fee of $250 covers your costs for the entire year, as well as a certificate and nifty polo shirt once you complete the requirements.

If KCCN sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please consider attending a Tuesday information session that we will host at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at Hickory Knolls. If you’ve never been here before, we are located within the James O. Breen Community Park, which is at the corner of Peck and Campton Hills roads in St. Charles. Enter off Peck or Campton Hills, then head as far west as you can. We are situated in a small rise between the dog park and the garden plots.

During this meet and greet, we’ll go over the course syllabus and respond to any questions or concerns you might have. But keep in mind, attendance at the info session is not required for entry in the program. Applications are taken on a first-come, first-served basis, and registration closes when the class is full.

If you’re already convinced that KCCN is how you want to spend your spare time this coming year, go ahead and complete an application. You can print one off on our website at Click the Programs tab and select Adult Education. Or you can email me and I’ll email you one back.

Questions? Feel free to let me know. If not, look for me at the ecology class Jan. 15. I’ll be the one who is first in line for the potluck.

Pam Otto is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, a facility of the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at 630-513-4346 or Feedback on this column can be sent to

Note to readers: Visit to learn more about Hickory Knolls Discovery Center. The website states it is nestled at the edge of 130 acres of oak woodlands, wetlands and prairies, offering a blend of rustic nature and contemporary comforts. Live animal displays offer up-close interaction with reptiles native to Illinois.

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