Today was a toss-up as to which was more fun — talking to folks about the George Fell biography or taking a guided tour of one of the natural areas that George protected first by buying it and then designating it as an Illinois Nature Preserve: Volo Bog.
First of all, how cool is it that a bog has its own book group: Of Bogs and Books. That’s due to Stacy Iwanicki, a long-time naturalist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. According to an article published last year in the Lake County News-Sun she started the book group back in 1994. Since then, they’ve read more than 233 books. Some books, including Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, they’ve read several times.
I was flattered to be invited to talk to this group about my biography of George Fell. It’s a great group of folks, who share a deep passion for nature. Not only do they enjoy reading about it, but many of them roll up their sleeves as volunteer stewards, to help keep our natural area gems healthy for future generations to come.
Even more exciting was when Stacy popped in a video she had made many years before — featuring George Fell. I never met George. He passed away several years before I started writing about him. I had seen him in a 1989 documentary entitled Saving Nature, in which he voiced his signature brand of determination: “If one person is determined that something is going to be saved, it can be done. It will be done. If there isn’t that determination, it doesn’t happen.”
When Stacy first arrived at Volo Bog, she had had the foresight and wisdom to gather George and others who had been involved in saving Volo Bog, and to record them reflecting upon their past experiences. Seeing George talk about the history really brought the book alive for all of us. It’s a moment I’ll savor forever — thanks, Stacy.
But Stacy wasn’t done. After the book group, she gave my wife and me a personal tour of the bog. This was my first visit to the bog, after having written about it fairly extensively in the book. George had had a direct hand in negotiating the acquisition of both Volo and Wauconda Bogs on behalf of the Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy — this was just a few years after he had taken the leadership role in transforming the Ecologists’ Union into The Nature Conservancy. More than a decade later — after he spearheaded the establishment of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission — he championed the dedication of Volo Bog as the 25th Illinois Nature Preserve.
Bogs are exceptionally rare in Illinois. They are also one of the most dramatic reminders of the glaciers that once covered northeastern Illinois in ice a mile thick. When they retreated, among the landforms they left were large lakes. The vegetation in some of these lakes decomposed and turned into peat mats, which in turn support unique assemblages of plants, including tamarack trees. Volo Bog is the only one remaining in Illinois that includes “all the stages of classic bog succession,” from the open “eye of water at its center to the forested bog around its perimeter.
Just as amazing as the bog was Stacy’s enthusiasm for the site. As she guided us along the floating walkway, she stopped and talked to every other visitor we met along the way, sparking their imaginations with interesting facts and insights into the landscape surrounding them. If George Fell was a force of nature in protecting our natural lands, Stacy Iwanicki is the equally necessary next generation force of nature who helps steward and interpret these sites. Again, thanks, Stacy. Susan and I look forward to a return trip to the bog soon.