Staying Warm and Safe in the Outdoors

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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 www.kaneforest.com, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter @forestpreserve.

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 programs@kaneforest.com or call 630-444-3190.

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!

 

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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…

 

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A tiny leopard frog

 

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Our nets caught many crayfish!

 

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A small nymph.

 

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

 

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Another crayfish- these little guys were everywhere!

 

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

 

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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 programs@kaneforest.com. 

Get to Know a Naturalist: Ben Katzen

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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.

 

Woodland Birthday Parties

 

 

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Does your child have a birthday coming up soon? Let us host the party with one of our Woodland Birthday Parties! Surrounded by the trees, birds, and other woodland creatures at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, we will provide the best party for any nature-loving child.

Treat your child and their friends to a one hour, naturalist-led activity of your choice. Learn about the plant and animal species that call our local woodlands home during a hike led by one of our Naturalists through the beautiful trails of the forest preserve. Looking for a more cozy setting? The other option is a hands-on campfire, with a naturalist led discussion about a variety of nature topics. After the naturalist activity, the group is given an hour to stay in the historic Creek Bend facility and have free time in the Nature Center.

All parties come with unique, nature themed party favors for every child to take home with them. Food is not provided as a part of the party, but families are more than welcome to provide their own. Although decorations are not provided as a part of the package, guests are welcome to enter the facility early to decorate for their party.

Consider a Woodland party for your child’s next birthday party! The natural surroundings and hands-on experiences will be sure to make your child’s birthday one to remember. For more details, email programs@kaneforest.com or call (630) 444-3190.

How to Prevent Invasive Species

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Invasive brush at Glenwood Park. 

Spring is in the air, and summer is on its way! This means that plants are growing and flowers are blooming once again. However, the change of seasons also suggests the return of some rather not-so-welcome plant species; the invasive kind. Invasive plants are not native to the area in which they grow, spread quickly, and can cause damage to the environment around it. So, what are some ways that you can prevent invasive species from inhabiting our local environment?

 

If it looks suspicious, leave it there.

There are a few invasive species that can appear to be beautiful or interesting. A good guideline to follow is if you don’t know what it is, leave it there. This prevents the spreading of their seeds to other areas through transport. There are plenty of native species that would make a much better (and safer) bouquet.

 

Proceed with caution.

If you’ve spent an afternoon out in nature, be sure to clean off any clothing items before moving to another environment. Seeds can often cling to shoes, pants, etc. and make a new home anywhere they may fall. Washing them is often the most effective way of getting rid unwanted hitchhikers. Pets can also carry seeds that may cling to their fur, so be sure to give them a good cleaning as well.

 

Keep it native.

Spring and summer is prime time to do gardening to keep your yard looking lush. When selecting plants, try to choose only native plants that will create a better environment for their neighboring greenery. Native plants also help to prevent the spread of invasive species to create a natural defense system right in your backyard!

 

Educate others and yourself.

Think you may have spotted an invasive species? The best step you can take is to remove it. Illinois houses many invasive species; from grasses to vines, these unwanted guests take many forms. A few common examples are garlic mustard and Japanese stillgrass. If you are unsure, research if the plant is invasive or not, and exercise caution when transporting them to the trash.

 

Volunteer!

Invasive species can be found all over Kane County. The good news is, the Kane County Forest Preserve hosts many removal programs for invasive species, and we can always use your help! For more information about these removals, visit our website at http://www.kaneforest.com