Since 1970, the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County have had many successes in helping to make McHenry County a healthier place in which to live. From the formation of the McHenry County Conservation District to curbside recycling, from the regulation of gravel mining to the passage of the Illinois Groundwater Protection Act, the Defenders have been at the front line, working closely with local, municipal, and county government while advocating for a healthy environment.

Defenders’ teams and committees work to address issues facing our natural areas, water resources, and open spaces, as well as decisions being made by our county and city officials. Volunteer opportunities abound. Click Here and email or fax to us.

Whether you are a Defenders member or not (and of course we would love to have you join), we want to know how you feel about the things that are going on in our community. What’s important to you?

A Brief History of The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County

The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County history begins in 1969 when the Fox Valley Freeway was proposed. In response to the proposal that would pave over some of the most ecologically significant features within the Fox River watershed, a group of concerned citizens from the Barrington area formed the Defenders of the Fox to protect and improve the Fox River ecosystem and its tributaries. The Defenders of the Fox’s first goal was to fight the freeway. In February 1970, a group of like-minded people from Crystal Lake and other parts of McHenry County joined the Barrington group, forming the McHenry County chapter of the Defenders of the Fox.

At about the same time, an ad in the Woodstock Daily Sentinel called for people interested in environmental matters to attend a meeting at Pleasant Valley Outdoor Center. Rita and Ralph Halvorsen, Anne Carroll, Sherry Anderson, and Lou and Margaret Marchi attended and eventually formed the McHenry County Environmental Council. In September 1970 this group presented Earth-O-Rama, a program on ecology. Admission was gained by bringing some item to be recycled. Soon thereafter, the Council was asked to become a part of the McHenry County Defenders of the Fox. In February of 1971, the two groups merged and incorporated as McHenry County Defenders.

McHenry County Defenders Original logo
Original McHenry County Defenders logo

In 2008, the members of the McHenry County Defenders voted to change their name to “The Environmental Defenders of McHenry County” to more accurately describe the mission of the organization.

From the beginning, the Defenders has been instrumental in many environmental successes ~ stopping the Fox Valley Freeway (twice! in the early 70’s and again in the early 90’s); saving Allerton Park near Decatur; protecting Volo Bog and Wilson Bog as Illinois Nature Preserves and an Illinois State Natural Area; banning phosphates in detergents; crafting a Crystal Lake watershed protection ordinance; protecting the Middlefork River near Danville; saving Ryder’s Woods in Woodstock; forming the McHenry County Conservation District; passing the Illinois Groundwater Protection Act and the Solid Waste Management Act; regulating gravel mining in McHenry County; preventing landfills on permeable soils in McHenry County; stopping power plants from being built on agricultural lands, and aiding in the adoption of the McHenry County Stormwater Ordinance.

The McHenry County Defenders has won several awards for its work, including the Illinois Environmental Council’s Environmental Organization of the Year, 1983; Governor’s Hometown Award, 1987; Daughters of the American Revolution State Conservation Award, 1989; Take Pride in America Award to the Wildflower Preservation & Propagation Committee, 1989; Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste Environmental Justice Award, in both 1989 and 1993; the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Pathmaker Award, 1998; the McHenry County Outstanding Recycler Award, 2002; the McHenry County Recycler Commendation Award, 2003; and the McHenry County Consistency in Recycling Award, 2004; McHenry County Job Training Youth Program Certificate of Appreciation 2005; McHenry County Outstanding Recycling by an Organization Award, 2006; McHenry County Department of Health 2011 McHenry County Green Award.

The Defenders has been a strong advocate of recycling activities since the organization’s inception. Recycling activities were promoted as a way to handle the solid waste problem and as a source of funds. Over the years, the Defenders has operated recycling drives in Algonquin/Lake-In-The-Hills, Crystal Lake, Harvard, Hebron, Huntley, McHenry, Richmond, Wonder Lake, and Woodstock. During the 1990’s and through October 2006, the Defenders operated a full-service drop-off center in Woodstock. We continue to hold monthly recycling drives in Woodstock and McHenry.

Since 1970, the Defenders’ work has continued the initial goals of its two founding groups. Education and advocacy on issues which impact the environment are the dual prongs of the Defenders successful stewardship of the natural resources of McHenry County. Today, Education, Land Use Planning, Natural Resources Preservation, Waste Reduction, and Water Resources Protection Committees offer events, tours, projects and demonstrations of environmental interest and address issues facing the county. Fundraising and Membership Committees raise both funds and awareness of Defenders activities in the community.

Reuse efforts have always been a large part of the Waste Reduction Committee’s work. The office on the Woodstock Square housed the Grassroots Seller Resale Shop, selling antiques and collectibles as a way to promote reuse. When the office moved in 2002, the Grassroots Seller closed, but the Waste-Not-Warehouse continued to sell used “stuff” at the Woodstock Area Recycling Center. Currently, annual garage sales promote reuse as well as provide vital operational income for the organization.

Groundwater protection has been an important issue for the Defenders. The group has published reports on the subject, as well as working with businesses to protect groundwater supplies. Interns helped businesses with pollution prevention projects and prepared fact sheets on topics including solvent substitutions and pollution prevention for drycleaners, printers, and auto shops. The Defenders is a member of the Northern Regional Groundwater Protection Planning Committee and has served on both the Governor’s GAC and the Steering Committee for the McHenry County Groundwater Plan.

Stream protection efforts have been the focus of the Water Resources Protection Committee in recent years to promote the awareness of the high quality waterways of McHenry County via river clean-ups, canoe trips, and educational programs. Environmental Defenders of McHenry County is an active participant in both the Fox River and Kishwaukee River Ecosystem Partnerships. Funding through the partnerships has enabled the Defenders to create two brochures and a poster about the Kishwaukee River as well as a display, a slide show and a manual on best management practices for municipal officials. A brochure about assistance programs for Nippersink Creek stream-front landowners was completed and a project focused on establishing proper buffers for the North Branch of the creek is underway. New projects focusing on outreach efforts in the Nippersink will target municipal decision makers.

The Land Use Planning Committee promotes good community planning and sustainable growth to protect the natural resources of McHenry County. Efforts to educate the public include the publication of the slow growth fact sheets, the 1993/1994 seminar “Preserving Our Heritage in Growing Communities,” and candidate forums. Transportation forums promoting alternatives to constructing highways and education about the environmental impacts of road construction have also been conducted. Recently, a first publication of the Local Farm to Market Growers of McHenry County has been produced to provide consumers with local, sustainable market options for produce as well as support local farmers. The Land Use Committee works with other organizations in the Chicago region in efforts to combat suburban sprawl, including the Campaign for Sensible Growth, Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation, and the Chicagoland Transportation and Air Quality Commission.

The Education Committee sponsors an annual observance of Earth Day, with large celebrations held at McHenry County College for both the twentieth and thirtieth anniversaries in 1990 and 2000. Since 2000, annual celebrations of Earth Day are sponsored by the Defenders in collaboration with other local environmental groups. The Education Committee also sponsors Full Moon Theatre educational presentations that provide a friendly forum for discussion of current environmental issues.

The Natural Resources Preservation Committee promotes the use of native plants for roadside prairies. Starting with a workshop for county and township road commissioners in 1993 and through their ongoing demonstration projects ~ Lake Avenue Prairie in Woodstock, the O’Brien Prairie south of Hebron ~ the committee has successfully educated the community on the value of native landscaping.

The Defenders publishes a quarterly newsletter with articles on environmental issues facing the county and about the work of the organization. For years we provided Environmental Tips to radio station WIVS and a series of Water Conservation Tips to the Northwest Herald. Currently, weekly Sustainable Living Tips are published in the Northwest Herald. A Resource Library, with an extensive collection of books, videos, and magazines about environmental issues was established in 1981 and is open to the public. A scholarship is offered yearly to a graduating McHenry County high school senior who will be studying environmental issues, while the Youth Conservation Fund supports environmental youth projects.

The Defenders first hired staff and rented office space in 1981, in Crystal Lake. The organization has been through various locations and staff throughout the years, bringing it to its present success and location in Woodstock.

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