Staying Warm and Safe in the Outdoors


LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve. Photo by Naturalist Erica Lemon.

The temperatures have dropped, leaves have fallen, and ice covers the ground. It’s officially winter here in Kane County! Although the greenery may be gone, there are still plenty of things to do and places to explore in Kane County’s forest preserves.  The preserves remain open 365 days of the year, and trails offer a look into the winter wonderland that our preserves transform into during these months. Hiking in the winter is different than in other seasons, and it is important to ensure you are taking all precautions to keep yourself safe and warm in the outdoors. Keep reading to learn about some safety measures you can take to make sure you have the safest experience outside.


Bring someone along or communicate your location. This is an important precaution to take, as going out into the wilderness alone without anyone having knowledge of your location can be dangerous. Be sure to express to others where you’ll be going and about how long you expect to be outside. Or, bring someone along with you! This will not only make your trek safer, but provide company as well.


Dress warm and bring essentials. It’s well known that winter in Illinois can be very chilly at times. It’s best to dress in layers, and choose materials that will keep you warm. Winter boots will help to keep your feet warm as you shuffle through the snow, and wearing two layers of gloves rather than one can be helpful in keeping hands dry. It’s very important to remember to cover any exposed skin, such as your face and neck. Bring other necessary items such as water, food, and safety items such as a first aid kit.


Be aware of shortened daylight hours. Nighttime comes quickly in the winter, with the sun setting as early as 4:30 p.m. Plan outdoor activities for earlier in the day and keep a watch or phone on you to keep track of time. This will help you avoid getting stuck in the dark, and make the most of the daylight! Visibility can also be lower in the wintertime with blowing snow, so pack navigation tools such as a map to prevent losing track of where you are.


Pack a warm drink. Who doesn’t love a good hot cocoa break? In addition to water, bringing along a warm drink will help in keeping your body warm. Additionally, it will help to prevent dehydration, which can still be a danger in winter when exerting yourself. To prevent liquids from freezing, consider carrying them in a thermos or close your body.


Be prepared to turn around. Weather conditions can change quickly during the winter. It’s important to check conditions ahead of time and plan to end your activity early, if needed. If you feel the weather is getting worse, it’s best to head home to avoid a potential accident or getting lost. As always, prepare ahead of time and bring items you may need when facing rough weather such as a headlamp and extra clothing to keep you warm.

Learn more about Kane County’s Forest Preserves and programs at, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter @forestpreserve.

Holiday Mixer – Friday, Dec. 13

Have you bought your ticket for our Holiday Mixer yet? Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and enjoy good company, refreshments, and beverages from our sponsor, @TwoBrothersBrewingCompany!

Join friends, neighbors and naturalists, while you sip a beverage and tour the charming 1930s era home, called Creek Bend Nature Center. Learn about the history of this building and all that it offers, including renting it out for your next special event! Socialize and play games in the nature center, and view the interactive exhibits.

Buy your tickets early by calling 630-444-3190 or email Or, buy your tickets at the door. This event is on Friday, Dec. 13, from 6:30-9 p.m. The fee is $15/person. This event is for guests age 21 and older. Creek Bend Nature Center is located within LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve at 37W700 Dean St., St. Charles.

shutterstock_623112506Photo courtesy Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images


Happy Harvest! Forest Preserve Fall Festival – Sept. 29

It’s that time of year where everyone is gearing up for pumpkin season! Smells of apple cider and pumpkin spice fill the air. Back by popular demand is our Harvest of the Acorn Moon Festival on Sunday, Sept. 29, from Noon – 3 p.m. at Oakhurst Forest Preserve.

You and your family and friends are invited to join us for pumpkin painting, mule-drawn wagon rides, games, nature crafts, guided hikes, live music and refreshments. Take a picture with our new harvest face banner! This event is geared towards all-ages.

Admission is free. There’s a nominal fee for crafts and refreshments. No registration is required. Come celebrate all that the fall season has to offer! Happy Harvest!

Photos by Communications & Marketing Coordinator Brittany Kovach

Scout Out Your Next Adventure

Calling all Scout leaders!

Are you looking for the next adventure for you and your scout group? Great news- with the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, you can discover local forest preserves with a Naturalist!

Our Naturalists can lead your group on an informative hike, or be the perfect complement to your campout! On informative hikes, a Naturalist will cover many different aspects of flora and fauna while helping your scouts work towards their next badge, patch, or pin. You can choose to do a “Seasonal Spotlight” hike that focuses on a variety of topics such as Spring Wildflowers, Trees and Their Leaves, The Amazing Prairie, Animal Tracks and Signs, and more. There are many exciting changes in the natural world every season, and we have a topic for every one of them! Complete with hands-on, interactive discussion and trail hiking, your scouts are sure to enjoy this excursion into nature.

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A Scout group inspects a tree trunk affected by beaver activity

All programs are 60-90 minutes long. Programs can be scheduled at any preserve and can be flexible depending on the needs of your group.  Reservations are required for these hikes. The fee is $2 per person with a minimum of $20 needed for a program. For more information about scheduling and fees, email or call 630-444-3190.

Support Blandings Turtle Conservation in Kane County!

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Calling all turtle lovers! Would you like to help the Blandings Turtle population thrive in Kane County? Participate in the Kane Forest Preserve Foundation’s “Adopt A Turtle” program! These ceremonial adoptions aid the Forest Preserve District’s conservation efforts and research above and beyond their current capacity, so that we can help this species get back on their (webbed) feet.

Who’s ready to become a turtle parent? We are so excited to see our Blandings babies soon; the countdown is on! Can’t wait until they arrive to learn more? Check out the links below for more information or search #KaneAdoptATurtle!

Adopt-A-Turtle information:

Adopt-A-Turtle online form:

Note: These are ceremonial adoptions. No turtles will be removed from Forest Preserve District property.

Nature Tykes & Little Naturalists

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Spiders, bugs, and the great outdoors…does this sound like something your child would enjoy? Have them explore nature with the Forest Preserve District of Kane County! Our programs “Nature Tykes” and “Little Naturalists” are designed for young children who enjoy learning about the natural world.

At these hour long programs, we will focus on a different theme each month. Every session will begin with a short introduction to the topic, and feature a combination of games, stories, crafts, or nature hikes that are led by a District Naturalist. 3 year olds are invited to attend Nature Tykes, and Little Naturalists is geared for 4 and 5 year olds. Spiders, insects, and leaves are the topics we’ll be focusing on this fall.

A parent or caregiver must be present at Nature Tykes throughout the program. Little Naturalists is a “drop-off” program, and adults and siblings are welcome to wait in the nature center or enjoy the trails during the class. The sessions are listed below and are held at Creek Bend Nature Center:

  • Thursday, September 26: Insect Wonderland. Nature Tykes 9:30- 10:30 a.m., Little Naturalists 1- 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 24. Spider Mania. Nature Tykes 9:30- 10:30 a.m., Little Naturalists 1- 2 p.m.
  • Thursday, November 21. Leaf-O-Rama. Nature Tykes 9:30- 10:30 a.m., Little Naturalists 1- 2 p.m.


There is a fee of $5 per child, per session. To register for a session, call 630-444-3190 or email Creek Bend Nature Center is located at 37W700 Dean Street, St. Charles.

Rusty Rodeo

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There’s an underwater invader in our local streams and rivers- and we want you to help us find them! Our culprit: The Rusty Crayfish. This tiny aquatic creature is considered an invasive species (non- native) and can negatively affect the health of an ecosystem if they are left unchecked. Are you ready to wrangle some of these creatures in? Will it be you that finds the biggest, longest, or most wanted of these Varmints? Join us and find out as we scour the common habitats of these wanted creatures at The Rusty Rodeo!

The rodeo will take place at Glenwood Park Forest Preserve, 1644 S River St. Participants are encouraged to wear closed-toed shoes and clothes that can get muddy and wet as much of our exploration will be done in the water! In addition to removing the crayfish, there will be music, and prizes for those who find crayfish within the winning categories. Sound like a good time? We’d love to see you there! The event will run from 11am-1pm and admission is FREE!

Get To Know A Naturalist: Erica Lemon


Erica examines a bug with a camper


Name: Erica Lemon

Alma Mater: University of Iowa

Hometown: Grew up in Burlington, IA. Now live in Pingree Grove, IL

Years worked at the Forest Preserve District: 14 (13 full time)

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

In community college I really got interested in environmental science and it gave me the motivation to educate the public on our natural world.

What is your favorite part about being a naturalist?

Seeing the wonder in the eyes of all ages, but especially in little kids, when they see or learn something new.

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

Being able to adjust the way I’m speaking depending on the knowledge level of my audience.

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

Zion National Park.

What is one item you can’t live without?

Sugar haha!

Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

I crochet and I’m into nature photography.

What is your favorite genre of music?

80’s rock and pop.

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

Don’t worry about things you can’t change. Though I struggle following that piece of advice!

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

Turkey Vultures.

What has been your proudest moment in your career?

Hiking with a group of Aurora High Schoolers. There was one student that looked like someone 100% not interested in nature, not dressed quite right for the outdoors, ear buds in, hat backwards, stayed at the back of the group. As the hike went on, he kept kind of inching his way closer to the front of the group. About half way through, he was walking right with me and asking all sorts of relevant questions. By the end of the hike, he told me he would love to do “something like this” when he was finished with school!

What is your favorite event at the Forest Preserve District?

Monarchs & Milkweed, hands down!

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

Focus on the part of nature you enjoy most, we can all learn from each other to expand in other areas!


View the slideshow for a few examples of Erica’s nature photos!

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Get To Know A Naturalist: Barb McKittrick

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Barb presenting at a program


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?

Alternative rock.

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.


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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