Name: Barb McKittrick
Alma Mater: Aurora University (BS Biology) and Northwestern University (MBA)
Hometown: Batavia; born and raised on Chicago’s lovely northwest side!
Years worked at the Forest Preserve District: 7
How and when did you become interested in being a naturalist?
I learned to love nature as a kid growing up in Chicago. Believe it or not, Chicago is a haven for urban wilderness, with a wonderful network of forest preserves, parks and protected places – several of which were right in my neighborhood. While I didn’t start out my career as a naturalist, I did get my degree in biology and worked at the molecular scale of science for many years. It was only years later when I started volunteering for a youth science organization that I realized that people actually get paid for inspiring others to appreciate and care for our natural places, and decided that I wanted to be a naturalist as my second career!
What is your favorite part about being a naturalist?
Seeing people’s faces light up when they discover something new out on the trail – whether it be the spicy scent of crushed wild bergamot, the pert call of a chickadee, or the warty bark of a hackberry tree.
What is the most important skill you have acquired through your career?
The ability to take the time to really and truly see. It is so easy to get so busy that we don’t stop and appreciate the little wonders that make a walk in the woods (or prairie or wetland) meaningful. I’ve been known to be guilty of this! Being a naturalist has taught me to slow down, to observe closely, and to be grateful.
What are you most excited for as you move into your new position?
I am so excited to have the opportunity to lead the great team of FPDKC Naturalists as the new Environmental Education Manager. I look forward to building upon the tremendous success of current programs like the Kane County Certified Naturalist program, special events like the recent Monarchs & Milkweed festival, and our slate of public programs for children, families, and adults. I’ll be looking at ways we can more actively partner with other regional agencies and organizations to best serve our patrons and at improvements we can make to our Creek Bend Nature Center facility and grounds to maximize each visitor experience. My goal is to touch as many people as possible with our nature programs and preserves in order to foster a connection with nature wherever it’s found – be it in a forest preserve, a city park, or your own back yard.
If you could take a hike anywhere in the world, where would it be?
That’s a hard one, because there is so much variety in nature and each place has it’s own special beauty. I’m so fortunate to have traveled the world during my past corporate life, but one place I’ve never been and would love to explore is Japan. There is a special hike there called the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage that follows ancient trails through deep, forested valleys. I’d like to go there someday.
What is one item you can’t live without?
Do you have any hobbies outside of work?
I enjoy biking, kayaking, backpacking, home brewing and reading. But my favorite time is time spent with family and friends.
What is your favorite genre of music?
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Well, it’s not exactly first-hand advice, but I really like Rachel Carson’s words: “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Do you have a favorite animal and/or plant species?
Fungi are amazing!
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
Seeing employees I’ve mentored go on to accomplish great things.
What is your favorite event at the Forest Preserve District?
I started a monthly hiking program called “Trek with a Naturalist” and it is my favorite event – and one that I get to repeat every single month with a lot of interesting and like-minded people!
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring naturalist?
Slow down and appreciate the details and intricacies of nature.