ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles Park District recently was awarded the Best Green Practices Award from the Illinois Association of Park Districts.
The award recognizes the park district’s efforts to maintain 11 natural areas totaling more than 400 acres. These areas include diverse parcels consisting of prairie, woods and marsh.
The award is a tribute to work started in the 1990s with a vision for restoring an area back to its natural habitat, said Pam Otto, outreach ambassador for the St. Charles Park District, in a news release from the St. Charles Park District.
Residents as well as Otto – the park district’s first naturalist – saw potential in reclaiming Hickory Knolls Natural Area, then known as Campton Hills Park.
“They felt if it could be cleaned up, it could be worth preserving,” Otto explained.
Today, that land is one of the 11 natural areas managed by the St. Charles Park District. Much of the work of caring for the land, carefully removing invasive plants while promoting the soil to its natural state, is done by volunteers.
Last year, volunteers logged more than 1,000 hours helping with land care and many volunteers have been with the park district for more than 20 years.
“They each contribute and make a difference in their own way,” Otto said. “Today as they look out at the natural areas, many can feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Another key component to the work has been the opportunity for residents of all ages to learn more about the park district’s efforts to conserve and restore the habitats.
“That’s at the heart of what we do, preserving the land and preserving the ethics of caring for the land,” Otto said.
Often, the education is through fun activities, games, said Laura McCoy, nature education program supervisor. Whether it is through summer camps for children to single-day classes for adults, she enjoys watching participants engage with nature and walk away with a greater knowledge and appreciation for the land.
“They’re going to understand the value and ultimately help care for the environment,” McCoy said in the news release.
At a time when people are seeking time outdoors and rediscovering nature, Otto said the park district’s efforts and master plans to preserve and restore these areas offers residents a tranquil escape.
“These locations are very accessible. One can enjoy them on a lunch break or while taking a walk,” Otto said.