Mind & Spirit

A Night Out to Support Conservation Efforts

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“Party on the Prairie” serves as a major fundraiser for Nygren Wetland Preserve, but it also gives visitors a chance to explore the soothing landscape. Learn what’s in store for this year’s event and find out how you can get involved.

Guests who attend “Party on the Prairie” can enjoy a wagon ride through Nygren Wetland Preserve, which presents an opportunity to take in the mid-summer native wildflowers and wildlife.

Guests who attend “Party on the Prairie” can enjoy a wagon ride through Nygren Wetland Preserve, which presents an opportunity to take in the mid-summer native wildflowers and wildlife.

Imagine taking in a stunning landscape while supporting a good cause.

Held every other year, “Party on the Prairie,” serves as major fundraiser for Nygren Wetland Preserve, 3190 W. Rockton Road, Rockton, which Natural Land Institute (NLI) purchased in 2000. This year, the outdoor dinner party will happen on July 13, a peak time for wildflowers in the prairie.

“The money that we’ll raise goes back to Nygren Wetland and it’ll help us with management and ongoing restoration of the preserve,” says Kim Johnsen, director of marketing and membership at NLI. “It’s a unique experience for a fundraiser because it’s outside in a natural area and people love the outdoor summer evening, dinner party experience.”

Nygren Wetland is a 721-acre wildlife refuge. Restoration of the land has helped to increase habitat for red foxes, bald eagles, American white pelicans and federally endangered whooping cranes, among other species.

“When we can restore prairie, it’s really exciting and important for the ecological sustainability of other life forms that depend on the prairie plants,” Johnsen says. “We want people to fall in love with nature and understand it, so they can protect an enduring legacy of natural land for people, plants and animals.”

NLI owns 26 preserves across northern Illinois. Nygren Wetland has public access at the intersection of West Rockton and Hansberry Roads. The soothing landscape features plenty of mid-summer wildflowers like the compass plant, false sunflower, grey-headed coneflower and wild bergamot, among others.

Party on the Prairie begins with wagon rides through the prairie, which Johnsen calls a “beautiful experience.”

“During the late afternoon, you can see the beautiful, mid-summer native wildflowers and you can see the wetland along the trail,” she says.

Guests can also see wildlife in its natural habitat.

“Nygren Wetland has become a very special place for wildlife,” Johnsen adds. “People can see birds, butterflies, frogs, turtles and deer, so it’s a really cool place to experience.”

After the wagon ride, there’ll be a social hour with live music. The social hour will include Dandelion Wit, a specialty beer brewed by Prairie Street Brewing Co. The beer is handcrafted using local ingredients, including dandelions. It has a light, crisp flavor that can be compared to Screw City Light, another beer made by Prairie Street Brewing Co, 200 Prairie St., Rockford. Dandelion Wit will also be available for a limited time this summer at Prairie Street, and for every beer sold, 50 cents will go to NLI.

Dinner will be served by Toni’s of Winnebago. There will also be a nature-themed silent auction that will last through dinner, with a live auction to follow.

Johnsen says the event usually attracts around 230 people, and the evening is a little more relaxed than a regular fundraiser.

“Instead of going to a dinner at a banquet facility, people can attend a more casual-style fundraiser in a unique setting, and I recommend flat shoes for women because they’ll be in a grassy area,” Johnsen says. “People can dress up, but they really don’t have to. They can just relax and enjoy themselves while they have a drink and take in the scenery.”

Johnsen says she can’t recall anyone who has come to the Nygren Wetland and regretted it.

“Once people get to the preserve, they love it,” she says. “A prairie like this is truly beautiful in the summertime.”

Visit naturalland.org for more information or call Johnsen at (815) 964-6666.

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