'A great way to be outdoors:' MCCD events encourage explorations, volunteerism

MCCD events encourage explorations, volunteerism

While some see winter as a time of hibernation, those involved with the McHenry County Conservation District see the season as an opportunity for outdoor exploration.

And they’d like you to join them, either at an event or as a volunteer.

“The more volunteers we have, the more we can do,” said Lora Petrak, community relations specialist for the district, which owns or manages nearly 25,600 acres of open land diverse with woodlands, prairies, wetlands, ponds, creeks and more.

In what looks to become an annual event, the district is hosting a Volunteer Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, at the Lost Valley Visitor Center at Glacial Park in Ringwood. Potential volunteers are invited to meet staff and volunteers, ask questions, register and learn about the perks of volunteering, as well as what the district has to offer. 

The district’s roughly 500 volunteers take part in everything from historical interpretation programs, to restoring land, monitoring plants and wildlife, environmental education, and patrolling the trails. 

“It’s a great way to learn about the county as a whole, the history, as well as what’s going on, and a great way to be outdoors,” Petrak said. 

With events, such as the upcoming Winter Wonderland Nature Festival — scheduled from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Prairieview Education Center, 2112 Behan Road, Crystal Lake — the district is all about the outdoors, even in the winter. 

Geared for children ages infant through 13 years old, the Winter Wonderland Nature Festival invites families to celebrate the winter season with a winter nature survival challenge, nature-themed games, crafts and a guided hike to look for signs of wildlife. Children must be accompanied by an adult family member, and registration is required by Thursday, Jan. 16, at

“It’s an opportunity to see how other animals manage the winter,” Petrak said. “There’s evidence of animal life you wouldn’t get to see otherwise, a chance to introduce people to how other animals live and how they survive.” 

The event is one of countless events, activities and programs hosted by the district throughout the year as a way to both promote the county’s water, wildlife and open land, as well as the need to preserve it. 

A love for the environment draws many to the district, either to participate or volunteer. 

Upon retiring as a Johnsburg High School teacher in 2011, Pat Sullivan Schroyer knew she wanted to be involved in efforts to conserve land and promote the environment. In her nearly three decades as a McHenry County Conservation District volunteer, she’s monitored endangered plants and frogs, planted native plants, cut down invasive plants and so much more.

Living in “no-man’s land” with a McHenry mailing address near Pioneer Fen, she is now a steward for that area. That means she organizes restoration work days, applies herbicides when needed and performs numerous other duties.

Why does she do it?

“One reason is just to give back, and another one is to help this earth be healthier,” she said. “I want it to be there for our descendants, and I want it to be as healthy as possible. It’s also rewarding to do this work.” 

A consumer sciences teacher before retiring, she said she’s always been interested in environmental science and has had the opportunity while volunteering to learn from experts in the field. 

She’s worked with everyone from fellow retirees to junior high school students. A couple of the students she volunteered with went on to major in environmental fields in college.

“So that’s just awesome to see,” she said. “It’s like we’re not only making an impact on the health of local lands, but we’re making an impact on the young people coming up.

“You don’t even realize how much you learn because you get to work with these knowledgeable individuals who are so happy to share what they know. It’s awesome.”

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