By Clarmarie Keenan

If you’re into nature—and even if you’re not—the daylong biennial Wild Things Conference was bound to offer something for you. I got my chance to experience this mingling of conservation change-makers, experts and enthusiasts at this year’s conference. And it was one wildly engrossing day.

The conference took place Feb. 23 at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. It offered opportunities to network with fellow nature lovers from around Chicagoland. More than 130 breakout sessions covered 12 categories or content tracks.  Sessions ran the gamut.  “Geology of the Chicago Region.” “Shinrin-yoku: Connect With the Wild Things in Nature and You.” “Dismantling Climate Deniers’ Arguments.” “Models of Early Childhood Education on Public Land.” And I could go on.

This eighth conference drew a record 2,460 people this year, proving we have a lot of nature lovers among us in the region

In one day, I learned about more effective social media tactics for conservation organizations, Monarch butterfly migration, landscape restoration at scale, Conservation@Home to bring our Forest Preserves beyond its borders, inspiring community engagement. Add to that the 62 green industry exhibitors and 47 poster presentations, and you have a day full of adventures with a great community of environmental advocates and stewards.

The Wild Things Community, as described on their website, is made up of “stewards, monitors, advocates, educators, Chicago Wilderness members, volunteers, and staff, all working together to promote and protect the prairies, woodlands, wetlands, wild yards, and natural parks of northeast Illinois, northwest Indiana, and southeast Wisconsin.”

All of us have one thing in common: a commitment to enjoying and protecting our local area’s wilderness.

The Forest Preserve Foundation was one of this year’s 279 presenters, too. Shelley Davis, Foundation president, sat down for a live-stream interview on Facebook with local radio host Mike Nowak, broadcast from the conference. Shelley shared the history of the Foundation’s public/private partnership with the Forest Preserves of Cook County, highlighting lessons learned, successes and opportunities for meeting new challenges. The session, which can still be viewed on Facebook, allowed us to tell our story to an audience beyond the conference.

The 2019 conference was my first Wild Things experience, one I enjoyed from start to finish. I expect 2021 will be an even bigger and wilder day of information and inspiration for our local conservation community…for all of us top accept nature’s invitation to care for and protect our ecosystem.

Clarmarie Keenan is the Development manager for the Forest Preserve Foundation

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