One of Meghan Norton’s fondest and most vivid childhood memories is going on a bird watching expedition to Baker’s Lake. She was a Hough Street School fifth grader the first time she discovered this local gem, but her eyes were as wide open to the beauty that surrounded her then as they are today.
“Baker’s Lake is one of the very places that was saved from housing development decades ago through the early conservation efforts of Dave Nelson, when he was a Village Trustee and then Village President, and others,” explains Norton, who will co-chair Barrington Area Conservation Trust’s (BACT) August 29 Tartans for the Trust event at the Sanfilippo Estate.
And it was none other than Nelson himself—a longtime Barrington resident and member of the Illinois Conservation Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame—who personally reached out to her more than a decade later with an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“When I returned to Barrington Hills with my husband and small children after 15 years of living in different cities all over the world, he gave me a call and told me about the great work this organization, BACT, was doing to protect Barrington’s undeveloped natural areas from commercial and residential development,” says Norton, who now serves on the BACT board of trustees. “The decision to become involved was not a difficult one for me.”
Norton’s story, and her lifelong devotion to her hometown, is just one of many. She and fellow board members are champions of the lands we all share—advocates and ambassadors on a nearly two-decade mission to preserve, restore, and inspire.
Often the tasks before them, such as the rescue of lands in the Barrington area, border on the impossible. The same could be said about this year’s event itself, a tartan-clad tribute to the highlanders of Scotland, a country that had an undeniable influence on the founding of Barrington itself. Yet Norton and her conservation comrades from the “highlands” of Barrington always seem to find a way.
“We as lifelong residents of this exceptional area have a responsibility to protect the lands we love,” says BACT Executive Director of Development Michelle Nagy Maison. “I love knowing that the work I do with BACT will have an impact for generations to come. My hope is if my kids decide to move back to this area that we were able to retain the rural character of the land around us.”
Matt Vondra, Vice President of BACT and chair of this year’s Tartans for the Trust, has been smitten with these hills and valleys since he was a teen.
“My first visit to Barrington Hills was in high school, when I visited for school sports from my hometown Glenview,” says Vondra. “I was awestruck that there was a community with vast open spaces and rural, equestrian, and agricultural values. Engaging with nature makes every afternoon and evening feel like a vacation.”
A year after he and wife, Erin, moved to Barrington Hills in 2012, Vondra embraced the opportunity to get involved in BACT and its mission.
“This isn’t your ordinary nonprofit, and while the goals of many others are noble and necessary, the mission of land conservation is perpetual and ongoing,” says Vondra, who worked with his father, Mike Vondra, and their family business, Bluff City Materials, on a notable conservation project in the the Bluff Spring fen in Elgin. “In an essential way, the BACT is a resource for private landowners to accomplish their open space goals. These goals are as diverse as each individual’s desires, while keeping with the mission of protecting rare and exceptional natural areas.”
The importance of this cannot be underestimated.
“The opportunity to invest in the operation of the BACT provides lasting and wide-ranging benefits—from the physical restoration of the preserved land to the internship and experiences afforded to all of our volunteers, along with the beauty of the protected lands for the enjoyment of all,” he adds.
Karen Trzaska, BACT board member and member of the nonprofit’s events and digital marketing outreach committees, says conservation is more than a charity.
“Conservation is a lifestyle. Like any healthy habit, it can be stepped into at any age—whether you jump in with both feet or take baby steps. Conservation has no limitations or boundaries,” the Barrington Hills resident continues, telling the story of her own path to BACT. “We moved here in 2000 because we loved the open space and the surrounding beauty of the Village, from the expansive natural land and the forests to the rolling hills.”
BACT Board Chair Bryan Croll invited her to meet with fellow board members Larry Ekstrom and Ben Brown to get involved in their ongoing fight to save and preserve these lands they cherish. “We are so fortunate here in the northwest portion of Illinois to have access to such diverse and beautiful natural land. It’s our duty to protect these spaces for future generations to enjoy,” she says, adding: “I also feel we have a responsibility to our planet and to our future generations to make a commitment to conservation. Not only do I want to do my part, I want to be an example for my kids so that they may bring that spirit of conservation into their adulthood. Conservation is an overwhelming global issue and I hope that we educate our local community so that we all understand it begins in our backyard.”
Jan Nestrud, fellow board member who serves with her on the BACT events committee, was drawn to the cause through her equestrian pursuits in Barrington Hills, or as she affectionately calls it, “horse heaven.”
“The many horse-focused organizations are dedicated to open spaces and conservation of our precious land resources. No land? No horse!” says Nestrud, explaining that her work on these initiatives spans more than 40 years. “This passion led me to the join the Spring Creek Stewards whose mission is to restore Spring Creek Forest Preserve to its pre-pioneer ecology. It was also an opportunity to help preserve the historic bridle paths in the preserve.”
BACT Founding Member Dave Nelson, the same conservation champion who enlisted Norton, invited her to join the board 12 years ago.
“I feel privileged to represent the voice of the equestrian community which was central to the development Barrington Hills,” she adds. “I also feel heartened to be involved in this organization that creates educational and stewardship opportunities for students and adults to carry on conservation initiatives that will not only preserve our Barrington area but hopefully go beyond to save our planet.”
Given the nonprofit’s roots in Barrington Hills and these ties to equestrian culture, it’s not surprising that the inaugural Tartans for the Trust event in 2019 was held at the Barrington Hills Park District Riding Center—and would have been held there again had the pandemic not swept through the nation earlier this year.
However, Maison says relocating a scaled-down version of the highlander-themed fundraiser to Jim Sanfilippo’s estate in Barrington Hills is only going to make the 2020 event more noteworthy.
Trzaska agrees, adding that despite the modifications, she certainly still plans to get into the highlander spirit with her attire. “We are adapting to the limitations we are faced with due to the global pandemic and making some necessary changes but have some fun things happening this year for the event.”
Similarly, Norton will be wearing her signature boots, Nestrud will likely be donning her ancestor’s tartan colors and crest, and Vondra is looking forward to the “comfort” of wearing a kilt again. “It’s quite an experience,” he says, adding: “This event is about enjoying open space and people are free to dress comfortably to most appreciate the rare open spaces we occupy.”
And that, Norton emphasizes, is why this year’s BACT fundraiser must go on, even if it means adapting to an unprecedented global health crisis. Masks can be worn and a vaccine will eventually come, but the peril that Barrington’s savannahs and hills continue to face on a daily basis is enduring.
“These natural spaces face constant threats, with everything from road expansion to commercial development. It is all of our responsibility to protect these open lands into the future, so that those who come after us can be inspired and nourished by them as we have been,” she says. “We can do this through easements and also through education, so that young people grow up moved to be stewards of the land and to see the importance of the continued existence of these vibrant natural areas in Barrington.”
She sees the recent crisis as a teaching moment, a chance to build on the power of community that fueled the creation of BACT nearly two decades ago.
“It’s teaching us many things, not the least of which is that we are all in this together, and that we all have a role in caring for our planet.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The organization we know today as Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT) was founded in 2001 by Mary Bradford-White in Barrington Hills. Through advocacy, education, and promotion of responsible land stewardship, its mission was to preserve the open space, rural character, and scenic, recreational, and natural resources of the Barrington communities.
Here are just a few of the ways BACT has preserved, restored, and inspired over nearly two decades:
520 acres of land preserved
10 conservation easements
17 Heritage Corridor scenic byways
5 nature preserves
10,000+ native plants and shrubs planted
52 monarch pollinator gardens installed
110 oak trees planted
1,000+ high school students inspired
300+ volunteers engaged
70+ homes, schools, churches, and businesses certified as ecologically healthy
TARTANS FOR THE TRUST
This year’s event on August 29 will look and feel different from last year’s inaugural offering, but BACT’s mission remains to the same—to preserve our community’s rare and exceptional open spaces for current and future generations.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented ideas and to that end, BACT has embraced the call for ingenuity, fully revamping everything about this year’s Tartans for the Trust fundraiser on August 29.
Michelle Nagy Maison, BACT’s Executive Director of Development, says she is excited about what the Events Committee has put together to make sure the second annual highlander-themed event can go on as scheduled, but in full compliance with state guidelines for social distancing and safety.
“This year’s Tartans for the Trust will take on a new look. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, we plan to have a small 50-person live event outside at the Sanfilippo family polo field in Barrington Hills,” she says. “At the same time, we will host a virtual event by livestreaming and doing exciting raffle prize drawings in real time.” The Tartans for the Trust main raffle sponsor for 2020 is Bluestem Ecological Services, offering generous prizes valued at $15,000.
Maison says she hopes many who can’t attend in person will support BACT virtually by participating through the livestream by inviting friends for tartan-themed viewing parties to listen to live music and watch the event. For the lucky few who get to attend the “adults only” party in person, Maison says one of the highlights will be a narrated tour of a rare fen of the Sanfilippo’s private conservation easement.
“We are so grateful to Jim Sanfilippo and his family for making this possible,” she adds. “While we were originally scheduled to hold this event at the Barrington Hills Park District Riding Center, relocating to this spectacular location is in line with everything BACT stands for—to preserve, restore, and inspire.”
For more information, visit bactrust.org. Supporters of BACT are also invited to log on for raffle prizes and other special offers, including the event livestream. Sponsors for this year’s event include James and Elizabeth Bramsen (Chieftain); The Stephenson Family Foundation (Lords & Ladies); The John Klaas family (Clansman); Larry and Laura Ekstrom, Mackie Consultants, Northern Trust Bank, and the Vondra Family (Order of the Thistle).