Get To Know A Naturalist: Valerie Blaine



Name: Valerie Blaine

Alma Mater: University of Illinois

Hometown: Currently, St. Charles

Years worked at the Forest Preserve District: Just a few days shy of 25 years

How and when did you become interested in being a naturalist?

I think I was born a naturalist. It’s just in me. When I was a kid, I played a lot in a forest preserve near our house in Northbrook. My mom instilled in me a great love and respect for plants and critters. I loved biology in high school, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in botany and a master’s degree in forestry. As for my interest in becoming a naturalist as a profession, I think I first became interested when I attended a naturalist-led night hike with my parents, at Turkey Run State Park, when I was in college. I was amazed by the naturalist guide. The light bulb went on in my head. “You mean I can get paid for doing what this person does?” It took a lot of work to become a professional naturalist (it’s much more than walking in the woods), but eventually I did and it was so worth it.

What is your favorite part about being a naturalist?

Knowing that I have helped foster a connection between people and the natural world.

What is the most important skill you have acquired through your career?

There are different aspects to my career. There’s the naturalist part, and the supervisor/manager part. In regards to the former, observation is the most important skill. As for the latter, I hope the skill I have honed is keeping sight of our mission and guiding the staff accordingly.

What will you miss most about being a naturalist?

My avocation and my vocation are one in the same, so I will never not be a naturalist. (Paul McCartney said it best when asked when he’ll retire. He replied, “Retire from what?”) I will stop being a manager when I retire, and honestly there’s not much I’ll miss about that!

If you could take a hike anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Am I restricted one answer? The Smokies, the Chiricahua Mountains, Konza Prairie, and Infinitum.

What is one item you can’t live without?

My glasses.

Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

Hunting, raising bird dogs, studying French, playing guitar, working out, reading.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Live as if every step on earth is a prayer.

Do you have a favorite animal and/or plant species?

There are so many that I love that I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one!

What has been your proudest moment in your career?

Oooh, boy! I don’t think there’s one moment. Being part of the very successful Kane County Certified Naturalist program makes me proud, and my column in the Daily Herald.

What is your favorite event at the Forest Preserve District?

Maple Sugaring.

What are your plans for retirement? (ex. traveling, volunteering, new hobby, etc.)

I’m going to do a lot of stuff. … Seriously, there are so many things on the bucket list that the bucket is overflowing. Training our GSP pup, hunting, working in my woods, getting together with friends a lot more, continuing to study the French language, playing guitar, reading a ton, wood carving, a lot of working out with my trainer, swimming, hiking, birding, writing. You know, stuff.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring naturalist? 

Spend as much time in the real world woods and prairie as you can, and avoid the screen (computer, phone, tablet) as much as you can. Be insatiably curious. Share your passion. Don’t be discouraged by [those who don’t support conservation]. Fight the good fight.


View the slideshow for examples of her nature photography…

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Creek Day: A Summer Camp Special

The best part of summer?  It depends on who you ask, but many would answer summer camp! A popular warm weather activity for generations both young and mature, camp has always been a time to explore nature and meet new friends. At the Forest Preserve District’s Week in the Woods summer camp, this still holds true! Throughout our week-long camps, there are a variety of activities every day such as crafts, outdoor games, and hikes that encourage kids to explore the natural world. A popular favorite activity of campers is Creek day, where they grab their bathing suits and head to Ferson Creek to play for the day. The creek is home to all kinds of aquatic creatures, such as crayfish, frogs, water skaters, and more; many of which we found on the most recent creek trip!



Our Naturalists and their campers search the water with their nets


We had a gorgeous, sunny day to get out and explore the creek with our nets! The water was perfect to splash around in and yielded many different creatures that we caught to examine then release back into the creek. When we weren’t searching for the next best creature to drift along, the campers enjoyed swimming and learning to skip rocks; many of them showed awesome talent with it! At the end of the trip, it was clear that the campers had learned so much and gained an amazing appreciation of the creek as a not just a fun place to play, but also a habitat for the many creatures they found! Enjoy the pictures below of the trip and some of their finds! Keep scrolling for information on how to give your kids the opportunity to explore this summer…



A tiny leopard frog



Our nets caught many crayfish!



A small nymph.



A crayfish inside our “specimen bin” that was shortly after returned to it’s habitat.



Another crayfish- these little guys were everywhere!



Fish on! This little one was quickly returned to the water after swimming into our nets.



One of our last finds of the day- a beautiful pair of shells.


Want your kids to explore the marvels of nature? Sign them up for Week in the Woods summer camp! Each nature camp runs for five days each, Monday through Friday. The dates are as follows:  “Summer Unplugged” August 5-August 9. Camp is for kids entering 1st-6th grade, and there is a fee of $175/child for the week. Advance registration is required, register by calling 630-444-3190 or email 

Get to Know a Naturalist: Ben Katzen


Ben at Harvest of the Acorn Moon

Name:  Ben Katzen

Alma Mater: University of Florida

Hometown: Downers Grove, IL

Years worked at the Forest Preserve District: 19

How and when did you become interested in being a naturalist?

In college, as a sophomore business major, I realized the importance of doing what you love. I changed my major to Forest Resources and Conservation.

What is your favorite part about being a naturalist?

Working with people from all walks of life throughout the County.

What is the most important skill you have acquired through your career?

How to effectively communicate with people of various age levels and backgrounds.

If you could take a hike anywhere in the world, where would it be?

The Canadian Rockies.

What is one item you can’t live without?

Tie between eyeglasses and shoes/boots.

Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

Car repair and electronics.

What is your favorite genre of music?

Progressive Rock.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Be yourself.

Do you have a favorite animal and/or plant species?

Wild Turkeys.

What has been your proudest moment in your career?

Having a child I taught in our preschool class come back 13 years later to be our college intern.

What is your favorite event at the Forest Preserve District?

Harvest of the Acorn Moon, our Fall festival.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring naturalist? 

Go on guided hikes to learn from other naturalists.


Camp is Calling: Tips to Make Your Camping Trip Run Smoothly



Ah- the great outdoors! As the days get longer and the nights become warmer, many folks will be pulling out their tents and other gear to get ready for camping season. There’s nothing better than a few days spent in nature with your family, friends, or just yourself. As we gear up for camping season to come our way, here are some tips to help make your camping trip run smoothly.

Check all equipment. Nothing is worse than packing up, driving to the campsite, and realizing your gear is broken. Be sure to test out all equipment you plan to bring before you leave so that you’ll have proper shelter, food, and other items working properly.

Choose your campsite. This is one of the most important tips: know where you’re going before you leave. Sure, it can be fun to drive around and survey the sites, but it can also be stressful if you get lost or the campsites have little to no space left. The Forest Preserve District of Kane County has multiple campsites for you to enjoy: Big Rock Campground and Forest Preserve, Burnridge Forest Preserve and Paul Wolff, Camp Tomo Chi-Chi Knolls, and LeRoy Oakes. Some sites may require renting them before use, so be sure to check before you confirm plans.

Pack more than just your average camp food. Not all dinners have to be hot dogs and s’mores; branch out by trying recipes you can make ahead of time! By making a few campfire-ready meals ahead, you’ll cut down on prep time at the campsite and try recipes you never thought you could have while camping!

 Leave it how you found it. If you’ve generated any trash during your trip, be sure to dispose of it in the proper places as designated by the campground. This not only makes you a stellar citizen, but it also improves the experience for the campers arriving after you leave. Aside from that, it ensures our environment stays trash and pollution free so that we can all enjoy it for years to come. Win-win!


 Find and follow us on social by searching @forestpreserve. Visit our website at for more information on our campsites and forest preserves.

Make it Memorable: Host Your Next Event in the Beautiful Forest Preserves of St. Charles

Within the wooded areas of the forest preserves of St. Charles sits our beautiful rental facilities, ready to make your next event a memorable experience. Creek Bend Nature Center and Barbara Belding Lodge have hosted many special occasions including weddings, birthday parties, and corporate events. At both properties, guests are treated to the views of our woodland areas while enjoying the comfort of our updated facilities.


Creek Bend calls LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve home, sitting just a few steps away from the banks of Ferson Creek. The home dates back to the 1930s and has a rich history. It also holds the nature center, an interactive space where visitors can learn about the preserve and the many creatures that live within it. There are plenty of rooms to rent within the house, including the grounds that have seen many beautiful outdoor wedding ceremonies and receptions.





Photography by @Nicodem Creative


Nestled in the woods of Brewster Creek Forest Preserve, the cozy venue also known as Barbara Belding Lodge sits, surrounded by woodland. The lodge houses multiple meeting rooms, a catering kitchen, seating for over 100 people, and an expansive outdoor deck that gives visitors a stunning view of the forest. Built on the former grounds of the YWCA Camp Tu-Endie-Wei, the lodge and 27-acre preserve sit on the Brewster Creek greenway. Consider the lodge for your next special event to create a lasting memory for you and your guests!




Photography by @KristaWeberPhotography


If either of these properties catches your eye, we encourage you to come visit us during open tours on Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. We would love to show you what our venues can offer you and your event. For more details, call 630-444-3064 or email


Check out our Facebook pages for more pictures from events held at these venues: 



Best Birding Spots in Kane County Forest Preserves


A pelican is spotted at Dick Young Forest Preserve by Erica Lemon, District Naturalist

Within the trees that reside in the Forest Preserve District of Kane County lives a wide variety of birds big and small. Throughout the year, different species can be spotted across the county, making our forest preserves an excellent destination for avid birders. Although some seasons may bring more excitement than others, you’re sure to hear birdsong any time of year and identify at least a few of our flying friends. Wondering when and where to go birding in Kane County? Keep reading!

In any season there is guaranteed to be activity. Summer is typically quieter time as most birds are off rearing their young in nests and trees. However, you can still find and hear many species! Spring is considered one of the most exciting seasons for birding as there are not only many native species out, but migrating species visit during this time as well. Birds can be heard singing throughout the trees and found sporting their courtship plumage as they search for a mate. As for fall and winter, there are bird species aplenty as well; although you’ll have to brave the cold to see them! Owls are a popular bird seen during the wintry months, and the Great Horned Owl nests during this time- which has been found at multiple forest preserves in Kane County including Fabyan Forest Preserve and Johnson’s Mound.

Kane County’s forest preserves offer a range of landscapes and habitats, which makes for a great variety of birds:

Tekakwitha Woods: Excellent for songbirds and waterfowl due to its location along the Fox River. This preserve tends to be busiest bird-wise during spring and fall migration.

Jon Duerr Forest Preserve: Also a great location to view songbirds, and is located on the Fox River. The river acts as “bird highway” during migration, and this preserve has quite the record for sightings. Reported sightings include Prothonotary Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, and Summer Tanagers. 211 species have been spotted here, making this a highly recommended spot!

Dick Young Forest Preserve: Due to the many different habitats at the preserve (prairie, woodland, and wetlands) there are a variety of birds that can be spotted here such as grassland and wetland birds. The woodlands are filled with warblers in the springtime, and the marsh hosts all manners of waterfowl during migration season such as egrets, mergansers, teals, and even white pelicans are known to stop here! Overall, 249 species have been reported at this site.

Bliss Woods Forest Preserve: There are certain species of birds that have very specific habitat requirements which means that they can’t be found just anywhere. Bliss Woods provides an essential interior woodland habitat that many birds, such as the Pileated Woodpecker, can be found in. Another bird known to inhabit these woods is the Red Headed Woodpecker, just one of the 150 species that have been reported at the preserve.


While there are many spots around the county that are excellent for birding, these are just a few that come highly recommended from our Naturalist staff. If you have a favorite birding spot, comment below, we’d love to know!

Get To Know A Naturalist: Josh Libman



Josh presents at a program

Name: Josh Libman

Alma Mater: University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign

Hometown: Lockport, IL

Years worked at the Forest Preserve District: 5 years

How and when did you become interested in being a naturalist?

I’ve been tuned into nature my whole life. In high school, when asked “what do you want to do with the rest of your life?”, the answer came pretty easy – park ranger!

What is your favorite part about being a naturalist?

The natural world is constantly in flux, and every day brings a new discovery. My favorite part of being a naturalist is having the opportunity to stay in touch with that.

What is the most important skill you have acquired throughout your career?

The most important skill I have acquired in my career is the ability to find an interpretive moment in any situation. Whether it’s a spider crawling across a classroom floor or a warbler singing its heart out in the forest canopy, you have to be ready for anything!

If you could take a hike anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I love travel, so hiking anywhere would do! Provence in France sounds cool!

What is one item you can’t live without?

I can’t live without chapstick.

Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

Outside of work I love to bird watch and cook. Visiting a local farmer’s market, finding fresh produce, and preparing a meal for loved ones is a solid day in my mind!

What is your favorite genre of music?

Psychobilly shoegaze crustpunk

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Do you have a favorite animal and/or plant species?

I don’t have a specific favorite animal, but I am partial to birds in general.

What has been your proudest moment in your career?

I am proud every time I get a special request for a guided hike.

What is your favorite event at the Forest Preserve District?

My favorite event is a program called Kane County Certified Naturalists. It really feels like we’re empowering adults to make informed, ecologically sound decisions.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring naturalist?

Advice for a future naturalist: start with humble beginnings and work your way up! Volunteering can lead to an internship, which can turn into a position. The naturalist community is full of interesting people, get out there and make some connections!



A Week in the Woods


Naturalist Ben Katzen leads campers on a hike through the prairie

Have your kids always wanted to learn how to survive in the woods, or learn how the field of STEM relates to nature? Or maybe their goal (or yours for them) this summer is to unplug from technology and immerse yourself in the great outdoors! Then we have great news: the Forest Preserve District’s summer camps are a perfect activity for your child. At our naturalist-led camps, kids will be able to get out of the house and into nature at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve throughout the summer.

Survival skills are extremely important to both animals and humans who may venture into the woods! In the first week-long installment of summer camp, “Tracking and Survival”, kids will learn how to “read the woods” by searching the forest preserve for clues such as tracks and rubbings that will reveal the hidden world of animals and how they survive in the woods. Kids will also learn human survivals skills such as how to make a rope and build a shelter, among other lessons. It will be a week filled with games, crafts, and lots of hiking!

In July, we’ll discover the beauty of the natural world through STEM-based learning principles at “STEM in Nature”. With the help of naturalists, campers will discover that STEM is all around us in nature! There will be lessons around the architecture of a bird’s nest, the feat of an insect gall, the symmetry of beehives, and much more.


Campers take a swim in the creek with Naturalist Josh Libman

In the last summer camp installment in August, we’ll focus on enjoying the beautiful weather and outdoors the best way possible; unplugged! At “Summer Unplugged”, kids will have the chance to experience the grandeur of the outdoors just like they did in the good old days. Getting in touch with nature will be the focus that week as campers will be able to play around the forest without any of the common distractions that come with everyday life. The woods, creek, and prairie are just waiting to be explored!

Each nature camp will run for five days each, Monday through Friday. The dates are as follows: “Tracking and Survival” June 24-June 28, “STEM in Nature” July 15-July 19, and “Summer Unplugged” August 5-August 9. Camp is for kids entering 1st-6th grade, and there is a fee of $175/child for the week. Advance registration is required, register by calling 630-444-3190 or email 

May Garlic Mustard Pull



Robb Cleave, Volunteer Coordinator at the Forest Preserve District, demonstrates how to remove Garlic Mustard.

Removing invasive species is important for our local environment. Garlic Mustard is an especially invasive species that affect states all over the country, specifically afflicting our local forest preserves as well! Earlier this month, the Forest Preserve District collaborated with Aurora Christian School’s students to remove Garlic Mustard from Elburn Forest Preserve!

For many invasive plants, specifically Garlic Mustard, removal is the most effective treatment. Garlic Mustard has shallow roots, which allow it to grow upward very quickly and shade out its surrounding native plants. Luckily, the shallow roots make it easy to pull out of the ground, preventing it from reseeding for the next year. At this removal, a few students and employees of the Forest Preserve District worked together to pull the Garlic Mustard population at the forest preserve. There was a larger population of the invasive plant in the area, but together they were able to pull over 200 lbs. of Garlic Mustard, and even observe some wildlife along the way!

Looking to remove this plant from your yard or a local natural area? Be sure to have trash bags ready for storage of the plants during removal, and remove the entire root system, not just the stem, so there is a chance the plant can regrow. Fun fact: after you’re done with removal, you can make a meal with your gatherings! Garlic Mustard has historically been used as an herb in many recipes- but be sure to cook it first. At the end of the day, you’ll have done your local environment- and dinner- a favor!


Aurora Christian students pose with the garbage bags of garlic mustard they pulled.


Interested in volunteering with the Forest Preserve District? We host many invasive species removals as well as many other events! Check us out at to learn more about how you can help!