WINNETKA – In our increasingly digitized world, where many children wile away summer days in front a computer screen instead of playing outside, the nonprofit organization BackYard Nature Center seeks to re-connect children and adults with the outdoors.
Founded by Winnetka resident Daniel Kielson in 2007, BackYard Nature Center’s mission is “to promote, facilitate, and strengthen the bond between the nature environments in New Trier Township and the children and adults who wish to enrich their lives with direct experiences in nature.”
Kielson, who was inspired to start BYNC by the seminal book Last Child in the Woods, written by Richard Louv, spent his childhood playing outdoors. Louv’s message concerning the enormous implications to child development and human health from spending less time outdoors resonated with Kielson. He decided to take action in his own community by forming BYNC, which focuses exclusively on connecting residents of New Trier Township with natural environments in the area. He reached out for board members and volunteers through The Volunteer Center of New Trier Township.
Linn Carey, vice president of BYNC and life-long nature lover, agreed with that message and joined the organization after learning about it through The Volunteer Center. “I went to the first meeting and came out a board member,” Carey said. Carey, a resident of Glencoe, grew up in Lake Bluff and always enjoyed the outdoors. She majored in ecology in college. “I am just generally interested in the outdoors and the natural environment,” she said.
BYNC does not have a physical location on the North Shore, but instead relies on the natural areas throughout New Trier Township to re-connect residents with the wonders of nature. “Our centers are all of the natural areas in New Trier Township, including your own backyard,” Carey explained.
For example, BYNC hosts volunteer activities at the Skokie Lagoons, where they seek to not only re-connect people with nature, but also restore the areas around the lagoons. Volunteers gather monthly to cut down buckthorn, an invasive weed that has invaded banks of the Skokie Lagoons. BYNC has also taken school groups to the lagoons, such as the sophomore class from New Trier Township High School and students from Wilmette Junior High School.
BYNC volunteers also attend events hosted by park districts or schools, and they educate children about natural areas in the township. For example, BYNC held tours of Crow Island Woods at a pioneer celebration in Winnetka, as well as at a recent gathering by the nonprofit Friends of Crow Island Woods.
BYNC also seeks to foster a love of the outdoors, through encouraging unstructured play in nature. The organization partnered with the Winnetka-based Alliance for Early Childhood during the Park-A-Day Challenge. BYNC created a nature playground for children to play in using only things that are found in nature. The nature playground included tree cookies — tree stumps that kids can walk on or jump off of — as well as a pile of vines formed into a bird’s nest, a rope swing and teepees. BYNC also runs an after-school program through the Winnetka Park District that is called outdoor adventures and takes place at Crow Island Woods.
Carey has many ideas for anyone seeking to re-connect with nature during the summer months. From something as simple as spending time in your own backyard, to taking your family to the Chicago Botanic Garden, here are a few of Carey’s suggestions:
- try sitting in one spot in your backyard at different times during the day, using your senses to compare the differences
- attract birds to your backyard by planing native plants or setting up a bird feeder
- take a walk down the bridle path between Tower and Willow Roads
- host a nature scavenger hunt for children
- visit the Skokie Lagoons and rent a canoe or kayak
- ride bikes to the Chicago Botanic Gardens and enjoy a picnic in the garden
For more information about BYNC go to www.backyardnaturecenter.org.