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Do you feel a shift?

One of the best things about working at Champaign County forest preserves is that each season brings a new shift in how we’re serving our community and preserving habitat.

Many people ask me, “What do forest preserve staff do in the

winter?” That’s a great question!

Often, more things are happening behind the scenes in the winter (and isn’t that true of nature as well?). And there are many ways staff continue to offer experiences for the public throughout the winter while also preparing for the warmer months — when so many more people like you come out to enjoy the preserves.

So what do staff do during the winter? Well, our Natural Resources Department conducts carefully planned prescribed burns before the plants green up. Prescribed burns help recycle nutrients back into the soil, promote native plant growth and push back invasive species.

Fire was once a natural occurrence in Illinois woodlands and prairies, and so our native plants and animals evolved to benefit from them. Nature now needs our help to sustain the thriving, diverse flora and fauna that we enjoy so much.

What else is happening behind the scenes? Volunteers help us get the preserves ready for the mowing season by picking up sticks throughout the preserves and alerting staff to downed trees across trails. Volunteers like you who help out at workdays, as well as our awesome volunteer trail stewards, are our watchful eyes and helpful hands — thank you!

And nature responds! Together, our care brings life to all the things we enjoy at the preserves.

Each April, the forest floor comes alive with spring wildflowers. They will bloom for a short time, set seed, and then die back as the trees leaf out. Until then, they make the most of their time in the sun!

One of my favorites is Dutchman’s-breeches, because the flowers look like little white pants hung out on a line to dry upside-down. So cute! And the leaves have a super-soft, fern-like look to them that I find very elegant. Learn more about these and other wildflowers at upcoming events at the preserves!

There’s a shift in the air as the Earth rolls around to spring. Do you feel it? It’s a bridge to something that feels both new and familiar at the same time. Let’s make the most of it — we invite you to get outside to explore the Champaign County forest preserves and breathe in spring. I’ll see you there!

Pam Leiter is assistant director of the museum and education department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. She manages the Homer Lake Interpretive Center and oversees the environmental programming throughout the district. Email her at

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