History and Founders
The first official meeting of the Forest Foundation of DuPage County is held in January. The organization is made up of movers and shakers in DuPage County, including Brooks McCormick, Paul Butler, William B. Greene, Bill Rutherford, H.C. "Chuck" Johnson, Carleton Nadelhoffer, Marvin Chandler, Donald Carlson and Mark Bisbee McCormick.
The Forest Foundation completes its first preservation of open space when William B. Greene donates the 260-acre Greene Homestead Property, which is now part of the Greene Valley Forest Preserve near Woodridge, Illinois. This is the first of many land preservation projects for the Foundation in the far west suburbs of Chicago. Most of the early land deals go down something like this: one of these gentlemen brings up a property he feels should be preserved, everyone takes out their checkbooks and says how much they’re in for.
On October 1, 1974, a resolution is passed by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County to formally constitute the Forest Foundation of DuPage County as an official support organization of the District. The structure of the Foundation consists of nine trustees, five of whom were appointed by the District.
35 acres of what is now known as the Paul Butler Nature Preserve within Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve in Oak Brook, Illinois, is acquired at a bargain price from Mr. Butler. The Sam Dean Memorial Building is constructed on the site the following year, honoring this strong supporter of the Foundation.
The Foundation begins hosting nature art shows, nature photography shows and cross county ski competitions.
The Foundation initiates the formation of other conservation groups. Some of these groups still exist independently today, including Friends of the Furred and Feathered (now called the Willowbrook Wildlife Foundation) and Friends of Danada.
The Foundation hires its first Executive Director, Jean Connell, begins accepting members, becomes completely independent of the Forest Preserve District, and changes its name to The Conservation Foundation.
To protect it forever from the developers knocking daily on her door, Lenore Clow McDonald donates her 60-acre Naperville farm to The Conservation Foundation, subject to a life estate.
Dorothy Dean Cavenaugh, the widow of Sam Dean, carries on his strong support of The Conservation Foundation by donating her 40-acre estate in Oak Brook, Illinois to the Foundation, subject to a life estate. The Oak Brook Park District will operate this natural area in the future as the Sam & Dorothy Dean Nature Sanctuary. The Conservation Foundation holds the conservation easement placed on these 40 acres.
After complications from injuries suffered in a car accident, Lenore McDonald passes away, and her beloved farm becomes the headquarters of The Conservation Foundation. A conservation easement is placed on the property, and a master plan is developed to ensure its uses for conservation, agriculture and education, in accordance with Lenore’s wishes. In 1997 the organization also completes its first major strategic plan and embarks on the first successful open space referendum for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.
The Conservation Foundation partners with Chicago Wilderness and other organizations to launch the Mighty Acorns educational program
Jay Woods, a 45 acre property in Kendall County, is donated to the Foundation and a $1 million grant is awarded from the Illinois Environmental Protection Ageny for restoration of the DuPage River.
The Foundation hires its first development director, assists Kendall County Forest Preserve District with the passage of its first open space referrundum for $5 million, and begins its partnership with The Green Earth Institute to farm the agricultural land on McDonald Farm.
This is a big year for conservation easements. The Foundation secures Illinois' largest conservation easement to date -400 acres- called Horizon Farms in Barrington Hills and negotiates the first-in-the-nation conservation easement on a Girl Scout camp at Camp River Trails in LaSalle County.
The wildly successful Conservation@Home program launches to educate and recognize homeowners for their native landscaping and conservation efforts. By 2007, the program has more than 500 participants and continues to be a popular program.
Our new program office at the Dickson-Murst Farm in Montgomery is opened thanks to a donation of property from the Village of Montgomery.
The Foundation protects 225 acres of land valued at $12.5 million through 10 different transactions and sells 2,500 rain barrels!
The McDonald Farm Renewable Energy and Water Conservation Demonstration Project is completed, which includes installing a small wind turbine, solar panels and a 25,000 gallon rainwater harvesting system.
The 253 acre Dayton Bluffs Preserve in Ottawa, boasting a mile of Fox River frontage, is purchased and preserved.
A pilot program called Conservation In Our Community is launched with five communities in DuPage County to encourage their residents to become environmentally conscious through involvement in nature-based projects right in their own community. Conservation In Our Community incorporates Conservation@Home, Conservation@Work, all of our water quality and stormwater management resources, and much more to make impact at the local level.
The Conservation Foundation receives a transformative $1.5 million gift from the Hamill Family Foundation to preserve land and launch campaigns to achieve a new level of public awareness and involvement in the health of the Fox River.
It's a big year for the DuPage River! The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup, which is staffed by The Conservation Foundation, celebrates 10 years of cutting edge science, water quality monitoring, data interpretation, dam removal and restoration projects along the DuPage River and Salt Creek. The DuPage River Sweep also celebrates its 25th anniversary. But the Fox River watershed is also thrust into our organizational spotlight as the Fox River Initiative, funded by the Hamill Family Foundation gift, is launched to create a coordinated movement to monitor and clean up the Fox River, create and preserve habitat and natural lands throughout the watershed, promote collaboration between all organizations and communities built along the river, and involve citizens in all of these efforts.
Our first Land Stewardship Manager was hired, and the Fox Valley Monarch Corridor Project came together to involve 11 other organizations in habitat restoration. We also launched our Fox River Initiative to bring awareness and care to the Fox River thanks to the support of the Hamill Family Foundation. A new watershed group, the Lower Des Plaines Watershed Group, was also formed and staffed by The Conservation Foundation.
A whole new program was added to our mission when The Green Earth Institute, a separate organization who had been leasing farmland at McDonald Farm, merged with The Conservation Foundation to become our Green Earth Harvest organic vegetable farming program! A new Kendall County forest preserve was born in the Little Rock Creek Forest Preserve after a 44-year effort to protect its 135 acres, and Farm Camp was offered at our Dickson-Murst Farm, as well as Nature on the Farm camps at McDonald Farm to enhance our summer environmental education programming.
What is thought to be the most ecologically pristine land on the Lower Fox River preserved through a conservation easement after more than two decades of preservation work. The original Fox River paintings of our Artist-in-Residence Joel Sheesley are exhibited throughout the region and published in the A Fox River Testimony coffee table book as part of our Fox River Initiative. Volunteers and partners also began a large scale restoration effort at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, funded by CITGO. And notably, The Conservation Foundation earned official accreditation through the Land Trust Alliance!
The COVID-19 pandemic hits. Our programs adapted to virtual formats, and our Nature Rx program gained incredible relevance as people sought the mental and physical health benefits of nature and saw it as a safe place to gather. Two more parcels are preserved in Kendall County’s Reservation Woods making half of this 100-acre high quality woodland protected.
For the first time ever, The Conservation Foundation completed four Buy and Hold land protection projects simultaneously in four different counties. Our work in water quality expanded this year as well with the formation of the Chicago Area Waterways Chloride Workgroup, and as of 2021 we have officially distributed more than 15,000 rain barrels! Our NextGen Council & Inclusion Council are formed, and our staff has grown to more than 30 conservation professionals!
The Conservation Foundation celebrates our 50th Anniversary in 2022! Land protection opportunities continue to abound, and the preservation of the 183-acre Belrose Farm and 110-acre Harper's Farm properties in LaSalle County are the crown jewels of six completed preservation deals. The Bill Dawe Family Pavilion is dedicated as a new outdoor gathering and educational space at McDonald Farm, and hydropanels that generate drinking water from the air are added to the renewable energy features at both McDonald Farm and the Dickson-Murst Farm. The It's Our Fox River Day cleanups we hosted in Yorkville and St. Charles were by far the largest yet, and in honor of our 50th anniversary, 144 people participated in the 50 Miles for 50 Years challenge and logged almost 18,000 miles hiking, biking, paddling and otherwise moving through nature. Here's to our next 50 years and beyond!
Today, The Conservation Foundation is one of the region’s largest and oldest private conservation organizations supported by more than 6,000 members and donors, and more than 500 volunteers who contribute 20,000 hours per year. We’re working throughout DuPage, Kane, Kendall, La Salle, Will, Grundy and DeKalb Counties to improve the health of our communities by preserving and restoring nature in your neighborhood. The Conservation Foundation has protected more than 36,000 acres of open space throughout northeastern Illinois!