Learn How You Can Protect Nature

Natural Land Institute (NLI) is one of the oldest private conservation groups in the Midwest, dedicated to preserving land and natural diversity for future generations since 1958.

To help the organization serve its mission, a variety of events and activities are held every spring and summer to encourage people’s appreciation of nature and their role in protecting it, says Kimberly Wheeler Johnsen, director of marketing and membership.

“We do all that we do for the purpose of giving people, especially kids, an opportunity for hands-on learning, so they learn to understand nature, fall in love with it, and want to do their part in protecting it,” she says. “Paying attention to what’s going on in nature makes you more aware of everything around you.”

Johnsen recalls a family who recognized soil erosion along river banks because they had learned about it while participating in Family Nature Adventures and understood what they were looking at when they came across it during a canoe trip.

Several informational, enjoyable and educational events are being held this spring and summer at the various NLI preserves.

NLI and Severson Dells Nature Center staff and volunteers take people on weekly Wildflower Walkabouts at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays or Wednesdays from April through June. The walks showcase what is in bloom at various woodland and prairie preserves around Winnebago, Boone and Ogle counties. Walks are free, but registration is required since group size is limited. This year, walkers will look for wildflowers at Anna Page Park, Stephen and Deirdre Nardi Equine Prairie Preserve, Pecatonica River Forest Preserve, Sewell Conservation Area, Howard D. Colman Dells, Piscasaw Fen, Burr Oak Valley, Wilson Prairie, Harlem Hills and Searles Prairie nature preserves.

Family Nature Adventures takes place Saturday, June 24 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Nygren Wetland Preserve, 3190 W. Rockton Road, Rockton. Kids and their families get to explore a dozen nature- and arts-themed learning stations for free. Walk or ride a wagon to the various stations. Participate in six or more learning stations, get your “passport” stamped, and earn a Junior Naturalist badge and certificate. Some of the learning station topics include bird journaling, bluebirds, butterflies, mammals, Native-American history, reptiles, wetlands and more.

Wine and Brew at the Wetland is a major fundraiser for the preserve that takes place Saturday, July 15 from 3-6 p.m. Sip wine, craft beer and whiskey samples at several tasting tables set up by local businesses including Prairie Street Brewing Company and Artale & Co. The evening includes a food buffet, cash bar, music and walks through the prairie.

Land Stewardship and Restoration Days are held weekly and monthly to clear out invasive species, collect seeds, and learn about the various needs of the NLI preserves.

“It’s a great thing for people to get involved in because they are doing something great for nature – learning how to identify invasive species and how to remove them properly,” Johnsen says.

“We want to encourage diversity and native plant growth, which provides a habitat for morespecies of living things. When one type of plant takes over, it reduces the viability of other wildlife. For a healthy ecosystem, we want diversity of all living things. Wildlife depends on a diversity of plants and animals.”

NLI is a member-supported nonprofit organization that has protected, managed and restored more than 18,000 acres throughout Illinois and southern Wisconsin, including prairies, forests, wetlands and river corridors. A Community Outreach & Engagement Committee plans and hosts programs for youth and adults, assists with kids’ activities at community events, works on recruiting new members for NLI, and helps with promotional efforts.

Visit naturalland.org to learn about volunteer opportunities and who to contact. Wildflower Walkabouts and Family Nature Adventures are free, but registration is required online. Tickets for Wine & Brew are $45 in advance and $60 at the door. ❚