Natural Land Institute: A Chance to Fall in Love with Nature

The conservation organization has big plans to get people out of the house and into nature, hopefully sparking a life-long love affair.

This year’s Party on the Prairie event is a fundraiser for Natural Land Institute and a chance for people to reconnect with wilderness. (Jill Kennay/Natural Land Institute photo)

Why study nature in a classroom setting when it’s more fun and engaging to explore the soothing landscape around us?

The Natural Land Institute (NLI), in Rockford, is holding two events this summer, each designed to introduce families to the great outdoors.

Family Nature Adventures is a program that helps children to fall in love with the outdoors by offering more than a dozen activities to spark their curiosity. In addition to being held virtually, Family Nature Adventures includes an in-person event June 25 at Nygren Wetland Preserve, in Rockton, Ill.

“The purpose is to give people an experience with nature, so they can fall in love with it,” says Kim Johnsen, director of marketing and membership at NLI. “When people fall in love with something, they start to understand it better and when you understand something, you have a desire to save it, protect it and keep it for future generations.”

This free, family-friendly event allows visitors to explore prairies, wetlands and woodlands while stopping at 13 learning stations, each hosted by volunteers and community organizations. Kids can get a special passport stamped, and if they visit at least six stations, they’ll get a junior naturalist badge, proof they spent time learning about the great outdoors.

“You go to each station, do an activity and hear someone talk about the topic,” Johnsen says. “It’s a great way to spend time outdoors with your family.”

Topics include butterflies, native bees and wasps, bluebirds, wetlands and woodlands, and American Indian history.

For those who can’t make the June 25 event, similar activities are freely available at NLI’s website. Those who join this summer’s nature adventure are asked to visit a park, nature preserve or backyard to interact with plants and animals they find. Students who complete six video challenges earn a junior naturalist badge if they complete the activities by July 31. Topics include wetlands, mammals and backyard birds.

“We’re happy to present this event in person this year, but we also wanted to make it virtual, because it provides the opportunity for anyone, from anywhere, to participate on their own timeline,” Johnsen says.

To further link people with the outdoors, NLI hosts Party on the Prairie as an important fundraiser for Nygren Wetland Preserve. The outdoor dinner party, which happens at the preserve, takes place on Saturday, July 16.

“Party on the Prairie is geared more toward adults, and it’s a fun summer evening out on the prairie,” Johnsen says. “People love seeing the mid-summer wildflowers in bloom at that time and the tent we’ll be in overlooks the prairie, so you can see the wildflowers while you’re having dinner.”

The event starts with horse-drawn wagon rides through the prairie, followed by a social hour with live music by local band Jon Bon Stamos. During social hour, guests can enjoy Pollinator Pale Ale, a specialty craft beer created by Prairie Street Brewing Co. in Rockford.

“We may either use local honey in the beer or we may just add some honey malt, which is a malt that lends a honey flavor,” says Reed Sjostrom, chief brand and products officer.

The beer, which’ll be brewed around June 16, will also be available for a short time this summer at Prairie Street. For every beer sold, 50 cents goes back to NLI. “There should be around $1,600 going to them,” Sjostrom says.

Dinner for the Nygren event is catered by GreenFire Restaurant Bar & Bakery, in Rockford. A nature-themed silent auction lasts through dinner.

Johnsen anticipates selling out the event, which is capped at 220 people.

“We believe more people are comfortable gathering, especially outside,” she says. “People will be able to get out and enjoy themselves at a nice, casual summer event.”

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