Environmental Defenders of McHenry County

Citizens working for a healthy environment



Retired educator turns manager of bookstore

By KATIE ANDERSON - kanderson@nwherald.com
February 26, 2011, Northwest Herald

Roy Asplund technically retired a little more than 10 years ago – he worked as an English teacher, a principal and then superintendent in Marengo schools for more than 18 years. The longtime Woodstock resident, however, hasn’t been able to stay away from administration, or maybe its books.

For the past year, Asplund has put in full-time hours managing the Green Spot, a used book shop, the proceeds of which benefit the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

In the spring of 2010, the Defenders opened a small resale corner inside their downtown Woodstock office to help support the group’s programs and operations. A short time later, Green Spot was expanded into its own retail space at 110 S. Johnson St., Suite 106, on the Woodstock Square.

Today, the Green Spot houses more than 10,000 used hardcover and paperback books. Asplund manages the store with the aid of about a dozen dedicated volunteers, he said.

Asplund puts in about 40 hours a week between picking up donations, setting up sales online, and managing the store. Although you’d never guess now, he did not seek out the responsibility, he said.

It was the result, rather, of a series of small volunteer efforts.

“I used to come into the Defenders’ old office and look at their book collection,” Asplund said. “One day I offered, ‘How would you like me to put some of these online.’”

Asplund soon was spending more time with the Defenders and then was invited to be on the group’s board. Now he is vice president.

“Education is not retail, and this has been kind of a fun challenge for me,” Asplund said.

In addition to the challenge, Asplund said, he loves the people whom he volunteers with and finds great satisfaction in the knowledge that he’s doing work that keeps books out of area landfills.

Copyright 2011, Northwest Herald, The (Crystal Lake, IL). All Rights Reserved.

Skrukrud fired up to protect area’s water

By KATIE ANDERSON - kanderson@nwherald.com
February 26, 2011, Northwest Herald http://www.nwherald.com/2011/01/27/skrukrud-fired-up-to-protect-areas-water/a445qj2/

You might not know Cindy Skrukrud, but if you’ve ever canoed the Nippersink Creek or fished in the Fox River, you have benefited from work she’s done.

The Solon Mills resident chairs the Water Resources Protection Committee of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, serves on the board of the Nippersink Watershed Association, and participates in the Fox River and Kishwaukee River ecosystem partnerships.

And that’s only a few of the volunteer projects Skrukrud is involved in.

To pay the bills, she works full time as the clean water advocate for the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“McHenry County is blessed with very high-quality water features, high-quality wetlands and unique fens. All those things have drawn me to focus on water,” she said.

A history of volunteering and easy ways to get involved drew her to focus on conservation in McHenry County.

Skrukrud was exposed to recycling and volunteering at an early age. As a child growing up in Colorado, her Luther League Youth Group raised money through newspaper recycling.

Skrukrud also watched her parents volunteer, and in high school she got involved in projects that raised environmental awareness.

The journey to a doctorate in biochemistry led Skrukrud away from volunteer work for a while, but a move to McHenry County in 1988 sent her back into it.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, now this is my chance,’” Skrukrud said. “I saw the [then-]McHenry County Defenders newsletter and said, ‘Hey, this is a group I want to be involved with.’”

Starting out slowly, Skrukrud first spent time at the Defenders’ recycling center in McHenry. Soon she was on several committees and named president of the board of directors for the nonprofit group.

In 1993, Skrukrud was named executive director of what is today the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and served as such until 1999.

“I think people get engaged when they volunteer. We get fun out of doing it, and we see the need,” Skrukrud said of fellow volunteers and herself.

“You see the results of the time you’re putting in and you work with such great people that you just keep doing it,” she said.

Skrukrud believes that the state of McHenry County’s water is a measure of how its residents live on the land.

“The only way we’re going to have good water quality is if we live lightly,” she said. “And I’ve really seen more communities embracing that idea.

“Twenty years ago, I don’t think people really realized and appreciated the quality of the streams in McHenry County, but I think the Defenders’ efforts and the Friends of the Fox and others’ efforts have gotten people to realize the quality of their water.”

– Katie Anderson

Copyright 2011, Northwest Herald, The (Crystal Lake, IL). All Rights Reserved.

Volunteer forces makes county a better place to live for everyone

By KATIE ANDERSON - kanderson@nwherald.com
February 26, 2011, Northwest Herald http://www.nwherald.com/2011/01/27/volunteer-forces-makes-county-better-place-to-live-for-everyone/alkwzcb/

Blanding’s turtles and river otters can’t necessarily mouth a “thank you.” And although it might have many limbs, an oak grove is rotten at shaking hands in gratitude.

Despite that, hundreds of people from across McHenry County volunteer each year to protect and preserve these and other non-human McHenry County inhabitants. And those volunteers have made McHenry County a standout example of how to organize and execute grass-roots volunteer efforts that benefit the environment.

“It is wonderful that others devote time to making sure people have enough to eat and can read and other efforts,” said Cindy Skrukrud, who is the clean water advocate for the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club. “We need people who are going to volunteer for the things they are most passionate about. Take me, I spend time on water issues.”

And there are plenty more like Skrukrud. McHenry County is a powerhouse of volunteer-fueled efforts to boost environmental awareness, limit use of natural resources, increase recycling, and encourage living lightly on the land.

The Land Conservancy of McHenry County is a quickly expanding example. The nonprofit group run by a volunteer board aims to preserve scenic, natural and agricultural resources by working with private landowners and developers.

It began as a part of what is today the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and in 1991 became an independent entity.

The group’s main goal is to educate landowners who wish to preserve their property into perpetuity, explained Lisa Haderlein, executive director of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County.

The founders of the group saw thousands of acres of high-quality natural areas including oak woodlands, remnant prairies and water recharge areas being sold and developed, year after year, she said.

Thanks to scores of volunteers, today The Land Conservancy holds 62 easements and has preserved more than 1,800 acres in the county, and it does this with only three full-time employees.

Coupled with preservation efforts, The Land Conservancy hosts programs to train landowners and volunteers in land restoration skills. Volunteers learn about restoring wetlands, planting native species, and monitoring the properties that the Land Conservancy holds in easement.

Perhaps the granddaddy of environmental volunteer groups, the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, has been a volunteer force since 1969.

In its early years, the group, based mostly in Crystal Lake and McHenry, successfully averted the Fox Valley Freeway and worked to improve the quality of the Fox River ecosystem and its tributaries. Groups such as Friends of the Fox River and Nippersink have since sprung from the Defenders volunteer efforts.

The McHenry County Conservation District, which manages more than 24,800 acres of open space covered in woodlands, prairies, wetlands and savannas, also stemmed from the work done by early Defenders.

Today, a large corps of volunteers young and old help maintain the district’s 29 sites, which are open to the public so that visitors can hike, bike, fish, canoe, camp, cross-country ski and enjoy the county’s natural areas.

Alice Howenstine of McHenry has been an active environmental volunteer in the county since 1970. She has watched the number of opportunities to volunteer grow and has seen the number of groups that focus on environmental awareness and conservation increasingly gain acceptance.

“You feel good,” she said. “You realize the effects of the little bit of effort and time you have been putting in. My joy right now is that there are others who are ready and willing to push on.”

For Skrukrud, the reason why volunteering for efforts such as stream and highway cleanups and recycling drives is popular is twofold. It’s fun and:

“You spend your days working with people who really care about where they live and you meet people who just want to make sure McHenry County is a great place to live,” she said.

Copyright 2011, Northwest Herald, The (Crystal Lake, IL). All Rights Reserved.

Forty years of preserving land, water

By KATIE ANDERSON - kanderson@nwherald.com
February 26, 2011, Northwest Herald http://www.nwherald.com/2011/02/14/forty-years-of-preserving-land-water/aal0hqc/

Alice and Bill Howenstine can’t tell you exactly how much time they volunteer. It has never really occurred to the couple to keep track.

And after more than 40 years volunteering with environmental awareness efforts in McHenry County, it would be a difficult equation to figure.

“You don’t say, ‘I’m finished working now. I’m done.’ It all flows together,” Alice said.

“Volunteers get satisfaction out of hard work, not money or anything else,” Bill explained.

The couple’s shared mantra has always been, “May you be blessed with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world.”

So everything, from the Howenstines’ re-used plastic grocery bags and home composting efforts to their involvement in recycling drives, has a purpose.

For the past 40 years, the Howenstines have focused on preserving the land and water in McHenry County and inspiring others to do the same.

A large portion of those efforts have been through volunteer work with the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

The Howenstines are considered founding members of the activist group that began in 1970.

Their labor helped bring about the creation of the McHenry County Conservation District and was instrumental in raising awareness of curbside recycling in the county and eventually implementing curbside pickups in nearly every town.

In addition to work with the Environmental Defenders and other environmental preservation groups, the Howenstines have traveled, at times with their three children in tow, to Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica to participate in community development projects with the American Friends Service Committee.

Thinking back, both Bill and Alice struggle to find a time in their lives when they weren’t involved in a volunteer effort.

“I grew up during the war, so people were used to volunteering,” Alice Howenstine said.

Both Bill and Alice came from parents, they said, who sought out and appreciated hard work.

The attitude obviously rubbed off.

Copyright 2011, Northwest Herald, The (Crystal Lake, IL). All Rights Reserved.

January 19, 2011 - The Woodstock Independent http://www.thewoodstockindependent.com/story.php?id=778

Fleming Road residents await word from McHenry County DOT

It's been almost a year since Fleming Road residents first learned the McHenry County Department of Transportation intended to work on their road.

As 2011 begins, they're waiting to hear the MCDOT's design plans and some have taken action to try to protect the road.

Fleming Road extends about 2.5 miles, from Country Club Road to Route 120. The road had been targeted for repair because of deteriorating pavement, issues regarding runoff and safety concerns.

However, residents like the road's winding curves, hills and old growth trees. Some feared the improvements were a ruse to transform the rural road into a Woodstock bypass. Others were wary because of the lack of design specifics given by the MCDOT.

They formed the Fleming Road Alliance to address their concerns. The group placed signs along the road, posted videos on YouTube and attended public meetings held last spring and summer.

The meetings are part of a multistep process known as context sensitive solutions, which seeks public input during the design process.

"The county adopted the CSS process a couple of years ago, and we're incorporating elements of CSS into what we're doing. Our goal over time is to develop consensus on the project and get input before the design, rather than doing the design first," said Wally Dietrich, design manager with the McHenry County Department of Transportation.

The department also organized a citizens advisory group, which included representatives of the Fleming Road Alliance, the village of Bull Valley, the Bull Valley Riding Club, the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and other groups.

Lisa Rhoades, 1111 S. Fleming Road, represents the Fleming Road Alliance on the CAG.

"We were asked what we felt was most important. There were different ideas. I felt it was to sustain a livable community," said Rhoades.

The group met in June and August 2010. Rhoades said four meetings were planned, but she has not heard of any upcoming.

Dietrich said additional meetings are in the process of being scheduled but could not provide a specific date.

"We're still pulling together information. I'd like to have something within the next month. It's a moving process trying to get all the information," he said.

Rhoades also investigated county scenic route designation for Fleming Road.

"There is no protection with this designation. However, it does indicate that many in the county feel that Fleming Road is special," she said.

After learning of a protected scenic route program in Barrington Hills, Fleming Road residents contacted The Land Conservancy of McHenry County about creating a similar one.

"We looked into the Barrington Hills program, then our board discussed it, and in September we formally approved the program," said Lisa Haderlein, executive director of The Land Conservancy.

In December, several residents filed conservation easements prohibiting sale of protected property without the approval of the landowner, The Land Conservancy and the village of Bull Valley.

"The landowner donates a portion of their land to The Land Conservancy and the village of Bull Valley. They give up certain rights to the property in exchange for preservation," Haderlein said.

Those rights include planting invasive species or erecting certain types of structures. So far, about 10 easements have been granted and another 10 are in progress.

Fleming Road passes through unique natural areas, Haderlein said, including the Boone Creek Fen, a Class 3 Illinois groundwater area. While the road has not caused ill effects so far, Haderlein was wary of the impact of a wider, more heavily traveled road.

"When road runoff gets into the ground, it brings pollutants like salt, oil and other things associated with cars. So far, there's been no negative impact, but if changes are made, the effects are irreversible," she said.

Dietrich said a design is still in development and could not provide a date for when it would be finished or presented, adding that the public input phase has taken longer than expected.

"We thought when we started last March we'd be through the initial phase by now, but it's taken more time because of the interest in the project," he said.

He did not know how the conservation easements would impact the design.

"We just found out about them," he said.

Rhoades and her neighbors believe it's possible to repair Fleming Road while retaining its rural charm.

"Our position is that this isn't one-size fits all, and design standards should be applied intelligently and skillfully. We continue to feel that if everyone works together we can create a wonderful situation," she said.

40 years of protecting the planet

By CRYSTAL LINDELL - clindell@nwherald.com

Posted:  04/22/2010 1:30 AM

Forty years ago, Michelle Soland celebrated the first Earth Day by handing out fliers supporting a recycling center in Woodstock. “I remember people spitting on me and saying, ‘This is just a hippie movement, and it doesn’t make any sense,’” she said.

The observance has come a long way since then.

This week, Soland, now a third-grade teacher, proudly donned a “Give a hoot. Don’t pollute.” T-shirt while running an Earth Week Fair at Westfield Community School in Algonquin. She joined community members all over the county in celebrating Earth Day, which has evolved from a one-day event focused on recycling to a multiday celebration focused on an array of topics ranging from fair trade to green energy.

“Recycling has become sort of a way of life now, so we put less emphasis on that,” said Deb Chapman, education services manager for the McHenry County  Conservation District. “Although it’s still important ... I think people are more interested in climate change.”

Her group celebrated this past weekend with a music festival, guided nature hikes and other activities during an event co-sponsored by the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

“We want to emphasize the generational aspect of it,” Chapman said. “[We’re] trying to capture kids’ attention and help them grow into responsible adults.”

That goes hand in hand with Soland’s event at Westfield, which features different stations for elementary students and community members to explore. For example, children could learn about solar energy by moving a sun lamp over a Hot Wheels-style car equipped with a solar panel or how to make paper.

Also, Katherin O’Connor and Bryn Jemmi, two fourth-graders at the school, were among those who wrote scripts from the perspective of endangered animals. Jemmi’s script was about the giraffe, while O’Connor’s was about the tiger.

“[In the beginning] it was just the local, don’t litter stuff,” Soland said of Earth Day. “It’s become more global ... because of the interdependence of all of us.”

That doesn’t mean that the local streets are being ignored. Jevonne Williams, owner of Jevonne Riley Salon in McHenry, organized Green Street Goes Green, an event that will include a cleanup walk in downtown McHenry today.

“There’s different causes ... but I wanted to do something local,” she said. “Once we make the first step in cleaning up the streets, people are more likely to keep it clean.”

Chapman said the ideal would be a world in which the observance wasn’t needed to raise awareness about environmental issues and instead it was just a day to celebrate the planet.

“I don’t think it’s achievable in our lifetime [though],” she said. “So, we want to keep people always focused on living a little more harmoniously.”

County Board approves long-awaited 2030 Plan

By BRIAN SLUPSKI - bslupski@nwherald.com

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board approved a land use plan this morning that will help shape the county's future. The 2030 Plan was approved by a vote of 19-3 at 12:45 a.m. today after several hours of debate and numerous amendments.

The vote brought an end to 3 1/2 years worth of work.

County Board member Tina Hill, who chaired the board's Planning Development Committee, expressed concern about the number of changes they had planned Tuesday night and this morning.

"We made a lot of changes tonight," she said. "We're not quite sure what we're voting on. I want to table the final vote. I think in a few places we really screwed up."

Hill's motion to table the votes was defeated on a voice vote, and ultimately she voted for the plan.

The 2030 Plan will be a guide for future development in McHenry County. The plan has been a controversial issue with critics contending that it does not go far enough protecting agricultural land and groundwater.

But supporters say the plan represents a sensible compromise – it promotes compact growth that would largely be contiguous with municipalities.

Hill came up with 24 amendments to the plan meant to address many of the concerns that had been raised.

However, several motions by County Board member Ersel Schuster forced the board to reconsider some of Hill’s amendments. Schuster sought to strengthen language in the amendments in a way that Hill said could drastically alter the plan.

By the end of the end of the night, all of Hill's amendments had been adopted, some with changes.

The land use plan has proved to be a difficult issue for the County Board. The previous county planning commission spent 7 1/2 years developing the 2020 plan. That plan was reworked by the County Board and ultimately failed to gain approval.

The 2030 plan was under discussion for 3 1/2 years.

The County Board heard from meeting attendees for about an hour.

Cindy Skrukrud spoke on behalf of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

“We continue to support the key concepts of the plan, which promotes a compact view of growth coming from areas that are contiguous with McHenry County,” Skrukrud said.

The Defenders did recommend some tweaks, such as better identifying aquifer-recharged areas to protect groundwater. That was among the amendments brought to the County Board.

Among those who were critical of the plan was Bull Valley Village President Brian Miller.

“Bull Valley is very concerned about the 2030 Plan the county is proposing because it would lead to high-density development,” Miller said.

Copyright © 2010 Northwest Herald. All rights reserved. 4-21-2010


Defenders celebrate 40th anniversary

Published: 4/21/10

Even before there was an Earth Day, the history of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry was taking shape.

In February 1970 - two months before the first Earth Day - a group of McHenry County citizens formed a chapter of the Defenders of the Fox. The group's main purpose was to protect and improve the Fox River watershed. The group merged with a group of environmentally-minded county residents a year later, proclaiming themselves the McHenry County Defenders. In 2008, the group changed its name to the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

Diane Oltman Ayers, the Defender's outreach director since February, said the organization has garnered immense public support throughout its life. The Defender's recycling program, considered cutting edge at the time, introduced recycling to McHenry County residents. As a result of the increased commitment to recycling, most waste haulers now offer curbside service. The organization still holds monthly recycling drives in Woodstock and McHenry.

"We've always been kind of the launching pad for new ideas," Ayers said.

In addition to curbside recycling, the Defenders has helped protect natural areas, including Ryder's Woods in Woodstock. The Defenders supported the creation of the McHenry County Conservation District as well as the passing of legislation such as the Illinois Groundwater Protection Act and the McHenry County stormwater ordinance.

Because the Defenders takes a proactive approach to conservation issues, Ayers said most of what the Defenders has been working on recently involves partnering with local and county governments. While important, Ayers said the organization's public profile has suffered some.

"We have been a really positive resource (for government) and are nonpartisan," she said. "That doesn't necessarily gain you headlines."

As growth in the county exploded in the mid-2000s, more residents entered the county, and many hadn't heard of the organization. This led to the Defenders' name change. Adding environmental to the name distinguished the group, as many began thinking the Defenders was a lawyer's office.

"Our new push is education," Ayers said.

"We want to take our message out and encourage other people to join (the organization," added board member Roy Asplund.

She added that the importance of organizations such as the Defenders is greater than it was when it started, as growth has stressed the county's water supplies, decreased open land space and increased refuse.

"Despite what some people say, we're not NIMBYs (not in my backyard)," Ayers said. "We're for responsible growth with development that makes sense."

As a way to connect with the public, the Defenders is hosting a series of "green voice sessions." The sessions will allow people an opportunity to discuss environmental issues in their communities and to develop partnership plans with the organization to handle the issues.

The Defenders has also started a series of business and civic partnership programs that allow entities to work cooperatively to help improve the environment.

A high school-based youth Defenders program has been added, and the Defenders plans to offer more programs and projects geared toward McHenry County College students.

While the Defenders understands "times are tight," Ayers said that further down the line, the organization wants to build a new facility that will allow the majority of programs and activities to operate out of a centralized location.

To learn more about the organization, visit www.mcdef.org. The Defenders is hosting an Earth Day open house from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Woodstock office, 124 Cass St.

© The Woodstock Independent | 671 E. Calhoun Street, Woodstock, Illinois 60098
Phone: 815-338-8040 | inde@thewoodstockindependent.com | Fax: 815-338-8177

From the front page of the Northwest Herald, March 30, 2010

Still green and going strong


Environmental Defenders of McHenry County volunteer Anne Basten of McHenry carries bags of used batteries at the McHenry County Defenders monthly recycling drive at the McHenry Metra Station. (Dave Shields – For the Northwest Herald)

WOODSTOCK – The Fox Valley Freeway. Conservation. Recycling. The roots of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County are many; the group’s impact after 40 years is hard to quantify.

“The important thing to me was always having a place where people with concerns about the environment could go and find out information and find out what they could do about it,” said Crystal Lake resident Pat Dieckhoff, a longtime member of the Defenders and former assistant director. “And that’s huge because you don’t have that in most places.”

The Defenders are celebrating their 40th anniversary. The group formed in 1970 in large part to fight the proposed Fox Valley Freeway. The north-south roadway would have gone through Crystal Lake.

At first the group included only Crystal Lake residents. But Rita Halvorsen led outreach efforts in Woodstock, placing an ad in the Woodstock Sentinel asking individuals to get involved in environmental issues. Among those who saw the ad was Sherry Anderson.

Anderson and a small group began meeting as the McHenry County Environmental Council. In September 1970, the group put on the Earth-O-Rama ecology program at the Woodstock Library. Anderson said the event included speakers on a variety of issues. Admission to the event was free – as long as a recyclable good was brought along.

“The Crystal Lake people came and were very pleased with what we did, and they asked us to join,” Anderson said, adding that the groups merged in 1971.

The Defenders were among the groups that supported the creation of the McHenry County Conservation District.

Bill Howenstine became one of the first district trustees, while his wife, Alice, became increasingly involved with the Defenders. The Howenstines had become involved with the Defenders shortly after moving to the McHenry area in 1970.

“It was a very new group,” Alice Howenstine said. “We got into it as soon as we could because we were in agreement with their ideas.”

Howenstine said one of the big issues for members early on was recycling.

Once a month, the Defenders would host recycling drives. At first the group collected newspapers, then aluminum cans and glass bottles. Everything had to be sorted, Howenstine said.

“We had to tear the covers off of the magazines because it was a different type of paper than the pages inside,” Alice Howenstine said. “Recycling was a lot different than it is today.”

The Defenders program put recycling on the radar in McHenry County, increasing awareness and garnering the attention of local municipalities.

“This was an example to the cities of what could be done to manage waste,” Anderson said. “Our goal was to put ourselves out of business, and eventually we did. The cities began contracting with haulers for recycling – it finally caught on.”

A history of the Defenders written by Margaret Marchi notes many of the Defenders’ other issues – saving Volo Bog and Wilson Bog from the proposed Waukegan-Richmond Freeway; supporting the formulation of the countywide floodplain ordinance; and supporting a Crystal Lake watershed protection ordinance – to name just a few.

Over the years, the Defenders have changed as issues have been resolved.

The original name of the group was the McHenry County Defenders. After years of calls from confused individuals seeking defense attorneys, the decision was made to change the name last August to the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

The Defenders now have about 500 members and still are involved in a variety of issues, such as preserving open space and protecting the county’s water quality and quantity.

The Defenders have continued community outreach activities, hosting events such as “Green Voice” – a series of public meetings meant to give voice to the environmental concerns of residents and officials. The next “Green Voice” meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Woodstock Public Library.

“We want to know what people are concerned about, and how the Defenders can help address those issues in their community,” said Nancy Schietzelt, president of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

Schietzelt said other initiatives include bringing back a Defenders youth group, pursuing outreach and education efforts, and continuing the film series “Full Moon Theater.” The Lou Marchi Total Recycling Institute at McHenry County College – named for one of the Defenders’ earliest members – publishes the annual Green Guide.

Alice Howenstine, who served on the Defenders board for decades, said the Defenders are more structured and larger than they were in the early days, but some things remained the same.

“If someone has a worthwhile environmental concern, this is an organization that will back you up,” Howenstine said.


In the NW Herald, April 23, 2009

Students take time out to care for the Earth By JENN WIANT

The Earth seemed to appreciate the extra attention it received Wednesday: For the first time in days, it was sunny and nearly 60 degrees as groups around the county worked outdoors in celebration of Earth Day.

A block down the street from Woodstock High School at a city-owned wooded area called the Albert property, about 30 students removed buckthorn, honeysuckle and dead trees from the trails that wind around a wetland area.

The students were participating in Senior Service Day, a school tradition that takes place while freshmen, sophomore and juniors take standardized state tests. This year, it happened to fall on Earth Day...


...Other Woodstock High School students were cleaning up in Emricson Park, clearing invasive species with the McHenry County Environmental Defenders at Dean Street and Route 14, and cleaning up Silver Creek near Bates Park, among other projects.

“We’re just helping out the community, giving back, while we wouldn’t otherwise have anything to do today,” said Frank Bochette, 17, who was pulling up invasive plants at Ryders Woods Park off Kimball Street in Woodstock.

“It may not be in our lifetime that problems may occur, but there are problems currently that we can do what we can to help out, and not enough people are helping,” Bochette said.

Brittany Dittmer, 18, said working in Ryders Woods helped her realize how much work went into maintaining public parks and trails.

“When you’re just hiking, you don’t realize it. You think some random conservation people come out and clear out the trees, but it’s neat to go out and realize that you’re the one who did it,” she said.

“For all the people that wouldn’t usually do anything on a daily basis to be green, [Earth Day] kind of makes people think about it and get out and do something,” she said. “Once you’ve done it once, it makes it easier later to live a greener lifestyle.”


read the full article here...

In the NW Herald, April 22, 2009

Protecting our Planet By JENN WIANT

WOODSTOCK – Seniors at Woodstock High School are excused from classes today. But it’s not Senior Skip Day.

In honor of Earth Day, they will work at several outdoor community sites in Woodstock and Wonder Lake, building trails, planting native species, and removing invasive plants.

The students are among several groups planning Earth Day events. But taking care of the Earth doesn’t just happen on Earth Day anymore. Throughout the past year, McHenry County has made strides toward becoming more Earth-friendly, said Pat Dieckhoff of McHenry County College’s Lou Marchi Total Recycling Institute.

But we can do more, she said.

“I would say we’re average,” Dieckhoff said. “There are some [communities] that are much more forward-thinking than we are in McHenry County. ... This economy is a difficult time to do that, but over the long run, it’s going to save money.”

...Other groups have year-round programs for making the community greener, including the McHenry County Environmental Defenders, a nonprofit environmental action group. They recently formed a Global Climate Change Committee and now are offering to do free environmental audits for homes and businesses.

Defender Cindy Skrukrud talks to kids about Water Conservation
photo from the NW Herald

The Green Business Task Force, affiliated with the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce, also offers free assessments for businesses and nonprofit organizations, Task Force co-Chairman George Sezemsky said. Representatives from Crystal Lake businesses that sell environmentally friendly products make up the task force. They have assessed about a dozen businesses in the past year on recycling and reusing, energy conservation, air pollution, purchasing choices, and policies for promoting earth-friendly practices.

“The idea is to save money, too. It’s not just to be earth-friendly,” Sezemsky said. After six months or a year, the task force members reassess the business to see what improvements were made. For a free green assessment, call Sezemsky at 630-874-5074...

Read the full story here.

In the NW Herald, April 1, 2009

Little things add up in conservation
by Joan Oliver, community editor for the Northwest Herald

Consider the ant.

It’s not very big, and it’s not much of a force. Sure, it can move a crumb larger than itself, but don’t expect monumental results.

Put millions of ants together, and then you can, almost literally, move mountains.

That’s the idea behind events such as Earth Hour, which was marked Saturday. Participants turned off their lights to raise awareness of global warming. The event began in 2007 in Sydney, when 2.2 million homes and businesses went dark. This year, the goal was 1 billion participants in more than 74 countries.

Granted, this was just a symbolic gesture. And maybe you don’t buy into climate change.

But think about the power of collective action, which can translate beyond tree-hugging.

Let’s put it on a local level. How much energy, water, landfill space, and money could we save if we all did just a little?

From small things, big things one day come, or so the song goes.

Take saving water, for example. These tips come from the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County.

Note the number of gallons that could be saved by each small action.

• Run your washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full, and you could save 1,000 gallons of water a month.

• Install a low-flow shower head and save 500 gallons of water a week.

• Use a nozzle on your hose and turn off the water while you wash your car and save more than 100 gallons of water each time.

• Keep a pitcher of water to refill in the refrigerator instead of running the faucet for cold drinks and save 200 to 300 gallons of water a month.

A weekly water conservation tip runs on our Local&Region section front. You’ll find one there today.

Think your contribution is too small to matter?

Then multiply those gallons by the thousands of people in McHenry County who could do it, too. It really adds up.

Parts of McHenry County are projected to be facing water shortages by 2030, according to a 2005 study commissioned by the McHenry County Board. Water demand is expected to exceed supply. Townships targeted in that report were Algonquin and Grafton, with Burton, Dorr and Nunda townships not far behind. More recent data indicate that it’s happening even faster than predicted.

Doing what we can isn’t a matter of feel-good propaganda; it’s self-interest.

At the very least, conservation efforts can save us some cash. Every little bit helps there, too.

What have we got to lose?

Quite a bit, by the looks of it. But together we can make a difference.

After all, it’s our county, our planet.

Why not try?

click here to go to story...

In the NW Herald, March 28th, 2009

Recycler to slash services

By Sarah Sutschek

MARENGO – About 4,000 households in unincorporated areas of McHenry County will have the number of recycling pickups reduced by half, although the price will remain the same.

MDC Environmental Services will pick up recyclable materials twice a month instead of weekly beginning the first week of April. Company officials said service with fewer pickups was becoming an industry trend...


...Alice Howenstine, chairwoman of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County’s waste reduction committee, said the reduction in pickup was a challenge that could be overcome.

“I think it’s possible to manage once every two weeks if you work at it and compact your recycling,” she said. For example, when recycling a milk jug, she suggested removing the cap and flattening it. “Don’t throw away air, so to speak,” she said. “A landfill has never been closed because it’s too heavy.”

But the fact that there is a reduction in service but no reduction in price is a negative, Howenstine said. “It would be really nice if they could make even a slight reduction in the amount people pay because that gives them a bit of an incentive to try these other things,” she said.

read the entire article here...

In the NW Herald, March 28, 2009 - Earth Hour

Going dark to save energy
By Amber Krosel

Tonight, it’s lights out for Mother Earth.

Several McHenry County residents will join the rest of the world as they celebrate Earth Hour’s message about energy conservation and global climate change. More than 2,800 municipalities in 84 countries plan to mark the second worldwide Earth Hour time zone by time zone beginning at 8:30 p.m.

Alice Howenstine, a member of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, voiced her support of the event.

“It would give us a reason for realizing how the vast majority of the world lives,” Howenstine said.

read the rest of the article...

March 24, 2009

Founder of McHenry County Conservation District selected for land conservation award 

Rockford, Ill. William Howenstine of McHenry, Illinois,  was selected by the Natural Land Institute to receive this year’s George and Barbara Fell Award for his distinguished achievements in land conservation.  Award winners significantly advance natural area preservation, management and restoration in northern Illinois in the tradition of the founders of the Natural Land Institute.

Howenstine was professor of geography and environmental studies at Northeastern Illinois University for 35 years.  He helped form The Land Conservancy of McHenry County and the Illinois Association of Conservation Districts. 

He was one of the original founders of the McHenry County Conservation District in 1971, serving on its board from 1971 to 1979 and again 1996 to 2001.  The district has preserved more than 24,000 acres of open space in McHenry and Lake Counties.

“During the early years of the McHenry County Conservation District, Bill Howenstine’s efforts saved important geological features in the Glacial Park Conservation Area from a highway expansion project,” said Judith Barnard, president of the Natural Land Institute.  “As a result of Bill’s testimony,” she said, “all highway public works projects must now go through the environmental assessment process.” 

Howenstine also worked with Attorney Richard Babcock of Woodstock in the 1970s to create the language for conservation agreements which restrict future use of properties to protect natural land or farmland that has wildlife, agricultural, historic or scenic resources. The first such agreement in Illinois was given by Richard Babcock to the Natural Land Institute.

 “In addition to the thousands of acres protected through these agreements by individual landowners throughout Illinois, the Howenstine family has protected 102 acres of his own land, including a donation of 20 acres of fen wetlands to the McHenry County Conservation District,” Barnard said.

Founded in 1958, the Natural Land Institute is celebrating 50 years of conserving forests, prairies and wetlands in northern Illinois.  The George and Barbara Fell Award was presented at the group’s annual meeting at Cliffbreaker’s Restaurant on March 24, 2009.

NW Herald, December 25, 2008

Keep holidays green by recycling


WOODSTOCK – John Hackman keeps his Christmas tree until January each year. Then he chops it into pieces and burns them in a wood-burning stove to warm his Woodstock home.

Alice Howenstine of McHenry stands her Christmas tree up outside and covers it in birdseed, popcorn and cranberries, or peanut butter to attract birds. “It makes a wonderful show into the spring,” she said. The birds eat the birdseed and take shelter from the snow under the tree’s branches, she said.

The winter holidays tend to produce a lot of waste, from Christmas trees to wrapping paper to holiday cards. But with a little creativity, much of what would be waste can be reused or recycled.

Howenstine, an active member of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County and owner of Pioneer Tree Farm, offered several ideas for recycling Christmas trees, wrapping paper, holiday cards, and Styrofoam packing peanuts.

There are two easy options for Christmas trees: Leave them for the birds or have them chipped into mulch. Howenstine recommends setting the tree up outside and sprinkling birdseed in and around it, stringing it with popcorn and cranberries, or spreading peanut butter on the pine cones and rolling them in birdseed to attract birds.

When you’re done using the tree as a decoration or a bird haven, the McHenry County Conservation District will chip it for free. Drop off the tree between today and Jan. 18 at Glacial Park at 6512 Harts Road in Ringwood, Rush Creek Conservation Area at 20501 McGuire Road in Harvard, or the Algonquin Township headquarters at 3702 Route 14 in Crystal Lake. All tinsel and decorations must be removed, and commercial drop-offs are not allowed. The chipped wood will be available as free mulch in the spring.

Lisa Haderlein, executive director of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County in Woodstock, suggested that landowners with ponds on their property put their Christmas trees in the ponds to provide a habitat for fish.

Haderlein said she did what she could to eliminate waste over the holidays. “I unwrap my presents carefully and fold the paper up and keep it and reuse it the next year,” she said. “With kids, they’re not looking at the wrapping and how perfect and beautiful it is, they’re just trying to get the wrapping off as quickly as possible.”

Howenstine uses an iron to remove the wrinkles from used wrapping paper. The hot iron also helps peel the scotch tape off the paper, she said. Paper waste from Christmas cards and wrapping paper can be recycled with other scrap paper and junk mail as long as it’s not glittery or made of foil, Howenstine said. But she chooses to reuse some of the cards by turning them into postcards.

The back side of the picture on the front of the card usually is blank, Howenstine said. She cuts the card to a maximum postcard size of 6 inches long and 4.25 inches tall and then draws a line down the middle on the back side to leave space for the address. Write a note on the left and send it off for only 27 cents, she said.

The Styrofoam peanuts that protect gifts in their boxes also can be recycled. Have children string them up in chains as decorations, drop them off at a UPS store to be reused, or bring them to the McHenry County recycling drives, which take place the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. The next drive will be from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 10 in the Metra parking lot at 4005 Main St. in McHenry.


NW Herald December 13, 2008

On the record: Bill Donato

Bill Donato, 49, grew up in Morton Grove, is a fan of the Chicago Cubs, and teaches science at Woodstock High School.

When you see Donato at a public meeting – wearing his hat as the president of the McHenry County Defenders, espousing the virtues of conservation and preserving the environment – you’ll sometimes see some of his students in the audience who are there earning extra credit.

His hobbies are reading, being with his family, and working on environmental restoration projects. His favorite wilderness preserve is Glacier Park, Mont. His favorite state is Illinois. His favorite place to visit is Andros Island, Bahamas. He said he was not sure where he would settle after he retires from teaching.

Donato recently took some time to answer questions provided to him by Northwest Herald reporter Tim Kane.

Kane: What is your earliest childhood memory?
Donato: The JFK assassination.

Kane: What did you like better, high school or college?
Donato: I had a good time in high school, but college was definitely more fun and allowed me to explore my passion for the environment.

Kane: How did you become interested in teaching?
Donato: At college as a T.A. for a lab ecology course.

Kane: How long have you been a teacher?
Donato: 26 years.

Kane: What is your professional goal?
Donato: To provide an opportunity for students and teachers to learn about themselves while working with the environment so they can relay this to others.

Kane: You are a vegan, I am told. What is the difference between a vegan and vegetarian?
Donato: I’ve been [a vegan since] about a year-and-a-half ago. I am not an expert, but the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan is a vegan avoids the use of animals in food, clothing and any other purpose, whereas a vegetarian avoids eating meat which includes poultry, game and slaughtered animals and fish.

Kane: Do you miss meat?
Donato: No, except certain shellfish.

Kane: How often do you use your reflector oven to cook?
Donato: When it is sunny and there is time to plan.

Kane: What’s your favorite meal cooked in a reflector oven?
Donato: Veggie burgers.

Kane: What environmental gadgets do you foresee being in use in 10 years?  In 20 years?
Donato: Solar power will be much more evident in the future. Cars will be hybrids with natural gas and electric, gas and electric plug ins. More people will be growing their own food, some on their green roofs. Buildings will be sustainable. I recommend people read “Cradle to Cradle” for a combination of business and ecology.

Kane: Why are you interested in the environment?
Donato: We only have one earth, so we all need to realize that we are just part of a larger cycle. There should be another R in schools [aside from reading, writing and ‘rithmetic] called responsibility. It is hard for me to believe that a child is fully educated if this is not part of their education. Unfortunately, in these days of “no child left behind” standardized tests, remedial skills seem to be what is emphasized.

Schools need to be a model for green living so that students and parents see what is needed for a sustainable society.

The Defenders – through education – are attempting to model this through the creation of a green building [for a new headquarters in Woodstock] and various sustainable practices.



NW Herald, November 12, 2008

Some dream of green Christmas

By TIM KANE - tkane@nwherald.com
WOODSTOCK – You can cook a turkey this holiday season using mirrors, provided that the sun is shining and you give yourself plenty of time.

"Thinking global and acting local" has been the mantra of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County. The gadget known as the Sun Oven is for sale on the Defenders' Web site. It was manufactured in Kane County, and it's going for $225.

"I know people with our organization who have cooked turkeys in their solar ovens," said Bill Donato, president of the Defenders. "I wouldn't do it myself. I'm a vegetarian. But I did buy a solar oven last year and have cooked spaghetti sauce and vegetable burgers in it. I'm an environmental science teacher, and I want to reduce my carbon footprint."

The Sun Oven for sale on the Web site weighs 21 pounds. It is carried like a suitcase.  Unfold the reflectors and place in on the ground or on a picnic table to start cooking.

Cooking temperatures range from 300 to 350 degrees.

"You can point it south and leave it for a slow cook," said Paul M. Munsen, owner of manufacturing company, Sun Ovens International Inc. based in Elburn, just off Route 47 in Kane County.

"If you stay with it and keep refocusing it on the sun as the sun moves," Munsen added, "it cooks faster at higher temperatures. I cook chicken and roast beef in my oven. If you're going to cook a turkey, give yourself four of five hours. The same time you need in a regular oven.

"It cooks more evenly than a regular oven because the air inside the cooking compartment is heated uniformly."


Northwest Herald, October 23, 2008

Forum keys on climate


CRYSTAL LAKE – Next spring you’ll be able to summon a home inspector – a volunteer trained by the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County – who will show you how to make your home more energy efficient.

“Thinking globally and acting locally” was the theme Wednesday night at the Climate Change Forum at the McHenry County College Conference Center.

Bill Donato, president of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, said an “environmental audit” of a home could be rendered for a donation of about $25.

The inspector doing the audit would check to see whether you have enough insulation in your walls and “draft stoppers” under your doors. The inspector also would advise against using incandescent bulbs and to instead use florescent bulbs, which last longer and use less power.

Donato also announced his group’s plans to build a “green” headquarters that would house the Defenders’ organization.

He said $80,000 that had been raised would go toward the construction of a $300,000 building on Dean Street in Woodstock. The building will have solar panels on the roof to cut down on the electricity usage. Another feature would be compost toilets that will turn human waste into fertilizer.

Steve Fuller said thinking about his family’s future turned his thoughts green about a decade ago. That’s when he became an environmental activist.

“I lost sleep over the environment,” said Fuller, with Crystal Lake’s Cool Cities Initiative. “I worry about my three daughters and the world we are going to leave them.”

Fuller said one measure he supported was the “Anti-idling Campaign” that urges drivers – especially those waiting at commuter train stations and parents waiting to pick up their kids from school – to shut off their engines while they wait to save gas and to put less carbon into the atmosphere.


Cary-Grove Countryside, September 18, 2008

It's Our River Day coming to Cornish Park

Kayak demonstrations and rock music will accompany an effort to clean up trash from the bank of the Fox River at Algonquin's Cornish Park Saturday for the "It's Our River Day" event.

Event organizers expect 40 to 100 people to attend.

The event, sponsored by the village of Algonquin and the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, lasts from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the park at the intersection of Harrison Street and Algonquin Road.

The event will start with several speakers, including village Trustee Brian Dianis and village Community Development Senior Planner Katie Parkhurst. Parkhurst and Dianis will address the crowd on the village's efforts to help the environment, including using biodiesel in the village's vehicles and replacing facility light bulbs with more efficient fluorescent bulbs.

"We are a conservation community," Dianis said. "The river is a great natural asset, so we want to make sure we maintain it."

At 1:45 p.m., participants will be invited to clean up the Fox River bank and Crystal Creek, aided by gloves and bags donated by the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club.

"It's important for us to get the trash and recyclables in the right place, period," Environmental Defenders board member Cynthia Kanner said. "People drive by (on Algonquin Road) and dispose things in the wrong way."

The Mack Hotterson band will perform classic and alternative rock music during the event. The event will end at 3 p.m. with the Prairie Coast Paddlers and the St. Charles Canoe Club demonstrating to shorebound attendees how to paddle a canoe upstream, and perhaps how to roll a kayak completely over in the river, if the water is deep enough.

"The message of the day is how important it is to keep our rivers, and our watershed in general, clean," Kanner said, "The health of a waterway can report back to us on the health of our whole community. Pesticides and other things end up in our water; it identifies things in our communities that aren't healthy."


From the Northwest Herald's Business Journal, August 5, 2008

Parkhurst Watches Over Future

If today’s time is the down payment we make toward the future of our environment, Katie Parkhurst is heavily invested.

Her calendar reflects that investment, including the hours she spends on Project Quercus (Latin for oak tree) and Oak Keepers, both projects dedicated to preserving area oak trees instituted by the Land Conservancy of McHenry County. Parkhurst cares about the environmental future of the county in areas such as natural resource protection, pollution-free drinking water, and open-space preservation.

As a member of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, a citizen organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the environment, she helps support its educational projects, programs devoted to pollution prevention, sustainable land use, and energy and natural resource conservation.

“These things matter so much,” Parkhurst said.

As chairwoman of the Woodstock Plan Commission, she considers her time well spent.

“I feel I can give back to the community I live in by offering professional knowledge and experience on how to review the land developments,” she said.

As acting planning director for the village of Algonquin, among her many duties and responsibilities is the village’s annual Conservation Community Day, which she helps to coordinate every year.  

“It’s a mini-Earth day that’s free and open to the public,” she said. “We designed it to inform and educate people on ways to preserve our environment – ways where they can make a difference.”

Parkhurst attributes her interest and participation in community service to the role model that her parents, Ted and Judy Thornton, provided.

“They were, and are, very active in so many causes,” she said. “I respect that and have learned so much from their example. In fact, what they did, and how it was received was something I wanted very much to emulate in my own community work.”

Parkhurst’s goal is to preserve our natural resources.

“I grew up in McHenry County, and I’ve seen many changes over the last 20 years,” she said. “I want to make sure its uniqueness is preserved.”

– Phyllis Shearer


**Greg Lindsay was the Defenders' second Executive Director, back in the early 80s.**

University of Minnesota, May 6, 2008


The Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs has named Greg Lindsey associate dean of the college. He will serve as both chief academic officer and chief research officer of the Institute. He will begin August 1, 2008.

“The Humphrey Institute has enjoyed positive growth and renewed academic focus over the last few years, and we have begun a vigorous examination of the roles and responsibilities of a public affairs school in the 21st century,” said Dean J. Brian Atwood. “Greg Lindsey has the experience, respect, and vision to help the Humphrey Institute move these efforts forward and respond to the changing world facing public affairs students and researchers.”

read more

In the Northwest Herald, July 17th, 2008

Seneca Township estate-home proposal fails

WOODSTOCK – Environmental concerns killed a proposal to build a dozen estate homes on 98 acres in Seneca Township.

The proposal failed to get enough votes Tuesday among McHenry County Board members to gain approval. Petitioner Arthur Schueler Jr. asked to get the land northeast of Kunde and North Union roads rezoned from agriculture to estate.

The proposition came from the Zoning Board of Appeals without a recommendation in part because of the environmentally sensitive nature of the property, which contains numerous wetlands and several branches of the Kishwaukee River.

Supporters, such as Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, and Anna May Miller, R-Algonquin, said the owners pledged to preserve the wetlands and that 70 percent of the property would be preserved as open space.

“I don’t see a better opportunity for true conservation design than this,” Miller said.

But a majority of the board disagreed, siding with objections raised by the Seneca Township Board and The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County. The McHenry County Soil and Water Conservation District also raised concerns about the potential for contaminating the river and groundwater supplies.



In the Daily Herald, July 14, 2008

Digging out in Harvard: Score one for the environmentalists.

A state appeals court ruled last week that Harvard officials improperly approved plans for a gravel mine on 792 acres near the city's northwest border because they did not first consult with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The unanimous ruling, which upheld a 2007 decision by a McHenry County judge, is a victory for the McHenry County Defenders, a local conservation group hoping to put a halt to mining operations until more study of its environmental impact can be done.

The Defenders sued Harvard trying to block the city's deal to allow mining by Meyer Material Co. the suit claimed, among other things, that the city did not adhere to a state requirement that it consult with the DNR before allowing mining operations.

In particular, the group cited concerns about the mining's impact on the Blanding's turtle and slippershell mussel, two threatened species found on the site. Questions also surfaced over how the work would affect the nearby Becks Woods and Piscasaw Creek nature areas.



June 20, 2008 The Northwest Herald

Algonquin showcases its conservation community

ALGONQUIN – The big purple butterfly painted across Jackie O’Connor’s face wrinkled as the 10-year-old poured a milky, blue liquid onto some potted grass. The liquid filtered through the dirt and rocks, and then it dripped into the bottom half of a 2-liter bottle much clearer and less blue than it started.

“Dirt is a natural filter,” said Cynthia Kanner of the McHenry County Defenders.

The Defenders’ booth was set up to let children see firsthand how an aquifer works, and, more basically, to tell them that their water actually comes from under their feet.

The Defenders were just one of nearly 20 booths set up along the Woods Creek bike trail at Algonquin’s sixth annual Conservation Community Day.

“Each year we try to make it more and more interactive,” Assistant Village Manager Jeff Mihelich said.

This year, participants at the free event could take home energy-efficient light bulbs and rain gauges along with ideas for conserving resources and being friendlier to the environment.

“We do this event because we believe that the natural areas here are very important to the community and help make Algonquin what it is,” said Andrew Bogda, who works in the village’s community development office and helped organize the event.

Friends Sydney Nemtuda, 9, and Kendall Douglas, 8, both of Algonquin, said they learned about native plants, what items they can recycle, and how water comes from the ground to their faucet. The duo agreed that it was a great way to start summer vacation.

“This gives residents an opportunity to learn about our natural environment and be able to see what village officials and organizations are doing to help protect it,” Bogda said.




April 20, 2008 The Northwest Herald

County groups celebrate early Earth Day fun


CRYSTAL LAKE – Earth Day is not officially recognized until Tuesday, but that didn’t stop McHenry County environmental-protection groups that kicked off the celebration and advocacy a little early.

Saturday’s Earth Day commemoration educated participants on ecology, the natural world and simple lifestyle changes they could make to protect the environment. It was a combined effort of two of the county’s leading environmental advocacy groups, the McHenry County Conservation District and the McHenry County Defenders.

And hundreds of residents seized the day Saturday afternoon. Some strolled through the Prairieview Education Center’s main building; some played educational games or made environmental-themed crafts in its barn; some hiked the center’s sun-dappled trails.

Others dropped off old tennis shoes, computers, cell phones and compact fluorescent light bulbs to be recycled. Still others shopped for native plants and solar panels for their houses.

Deb Chapman, education services manager for the conservation district and Earth Day co-chairwoman, said grass-roots efforts to protect the Earth were on the rise. Environmental policy has made headlines and become a political hot-button issue as concern over the climate grows.

“This is looking really, really good,” Chapman said. “You really had to ride the wave that started with climate change and fuel prices.

“People seem to be paying more attention and taking action.”

People such as Carole Goodspeed and her daughters, Elena, 6, and Marla, 5. The Cary family trades the car keys for tennis shoes whenever possible, Carole Goodspeed said, and soon will break out the bicycles.

It’s easy to understand why, if you’re Elena Goodspeed.

“It helps a lot not to make the environment dirty and the world dirty,” she said.

Carole Goodspeed admitted that she had become more environmentally conscious since the births of her daughters. Teaching them environmental stewardship, she said, also teaches them a lot about life.

“It makes them more conscious about their choices,” she said. “It makes them more aware of their resources and that [life] is not just about them.”

That’s the type of attitude that Earth Day co-Chairman Bill Donato said he liked to hear.

Donato, who has watched the annual celebration grow over the years, said a recent population boom had led some county residents to take environmental advocacy into their own hands.

“As McHenry County grows, people were [watching] natural areas being torn down for subdivisions,” Donato said. “They’re thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe we don’t want this sprawl.’”



April 4, 2008 The Woodstock Independent

Go green while saving green

Anyone who thinks going green means spending big bucks on a host of
expensive eco-friendly products should talk with Alice Howenstine.
Howenstine, co-owner of the Pioneer Tree Farm in northern McHenry County, has lived green her entire life. She learned to do it the hard way, growing up during the Great Depression. “We were living green back then but that wasn’t what anyone called it. We didn’t think of it as a chore, but a challenge,” she said.

For years, she’s carried in her own grocery bags, recycled, planted her own
organic vegetable garden — nourished with homemade compost — and whenever possible, prefers to repair items instead of replacing them. Her environmentally-friendly lifestyle is defined more by what she doesn’t buy, rather than what she does. To Howenstine and her husband, Bill, it’s all about
creativity. “I like to look at a problem and look at a creative way to solve it by trying to reuse what we have,” she said.

Read the whole article HERE. Scroll down to page 6.

Use a washable coffee mug at work and keep one in the car.
Take 5-minute showers.
Buy recycled toilet paper.
Replace paper napkins with cloth napkins.
Use fans instead of air-conditioning.
Air-dry your laundry.
Reduce packaging by buying in bulk.
Reduce your meat consumption.
Before you buy, ask yourself if it is a necessary purchase.


February 23, 2008, Northwest Herald's "On the Record"

Recharge groundwater
Minimizing water use at home will help

"If there’s a town or business in McHenry County looking to expand its wastewater treatment operations, chances are Cindy Skrukrud is keeping a watchful eye on their efforts.

As a clean water advocate for the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, Skrukrud monitors discharge permits issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and works with municipal officials to minimize the amount of pollution that is deposited into rivers and streams.

A Richmond area resident, Skrukrud, 53, has an undergraduate degree in agricultural science and a Ph.D. in biochemistry. She serves as chair of the McHenry County Defenders’ water resources protection committee and leads the Fox River Study Group, which studies water quality issues in the Fox River.

Skrukrud spoke with reporter Jocelyn Allison recently about why protecting groundwater is a top environmental concern in McHenry County."

Click HERE to read the full article.


February 9, 2008, Northwest Herald's "In Motion"

Alice Howenstine is interviewed at the Defenders' batteries and bulbs recycling drive in Woodstock. CLICK HERE for the video.


North Branch Nippersink Creek Watershed ~ A Resource to Protect  

by Cindy Skrukrud

A report highlighting protection needs for the high quality North Branch of Nippersink Creek is the latest Defenders' effort to preserve unique resources within McHenry County in the face of development pressures. The report, North Branch Nippersink Creek Watershed - A Resource to Protect, identifies the areas within the North Branch watershed which are predicted to experience the most population growth over the next 25 years and recommends actions needed to maintain the quality of the creek. The report will be presented to municipal officials whose decisions now and in coming years will determine the fate of the creek.

Funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation 2000 program, the report fulfills two key recommendations of the September 1998 Nippersink Creek Watershed Plan which called for the establishment of minimum buffer zones along the creek to protect its quality habitat and the preservation of recognized important high quality wetlands for habitat which line the creek corridor. A score of natural resource experts from the county worked together to compile the natural resource information necessary to recommend areas that should become part of community 'Green Zones', priority areas for community parks and natural areas.

Population projections indicate two areas within the watershed that are under the greatest pressure from new development. These include a corridor of land on both sides of Route 12 as it runs from the Wisconsin border through the Village of Richmond and south along Route 31 to the West Solon Road intersection. The second area lies to the east of Lake Elizabeth, a designated Illinois Nature Preserve. This area of natural springs supports communities of rare sedge meadows and is projected to experience development from the Village of Spring Grove. In the report, color maps, produced by the McHenry County Soil & Water Conservation District clearly show land recommended for protection in these areas as well as locations of hydric soils unsuitable for building sites.

Besides the community Green Zone recommendation, the report also recommends that communities follow principles of conservation development in the design of new developments within the watershed. With careful design and sufficient land provided within developments for stormwater control; polluted water running off new roads, driveways, and parking lots can be cleaned up before it reaches the North Branch of Nippersink Creek.

While the report's findings clearly show the need for the villages of Richmond and Spring Grove to plan developments in the coming years with the protection of the North Branch of Nippersink Creek and Lake Elizabeth foremost in their thoughts, the report recommends that all communities in the watershed adopt conservation design measures to help maintain the quality of the North Branch. Plans are to present the report to the villages of Richmond, Spring Grove, and Hebron as well as to township and county government official later this summer.



Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, 110 South Johnson Street, Suite 106, Woodstock, Illinois 60098
815-338-0393  mcdef@owc.net