Force of Nature: George Fell, Founder of the Natural Areas Movement
by Arthur Melville Pearson
Winner of an Outstanding Achievement Award for scholarly publications from the Illinois State Historical Society, 2018
Watch my keynote speech at the annual dinner of the Natural Land Institute, and listen to the interview on Wisconsin Public Radio and The Mike Nowak Show. More coverage and video by Metropolitan Planning Council and DNAInfo Chicago.
George Fell is one of the most important but under-appreciated men in the history of American conservation. He was the driving force behind the establishment of The Nature Conservancy, now the largest conservation organization in the world. He championed the passage of the Illinois Natural Areas Preservation Act, which both provided the means to protect Illinois’ remaining natural areas and served as a model for other states to follow suit. He founded the Natural Land Institute, one of the most successful land trusts in all of Illinois. He protected more natural land in Illinois than anyone else, including the George B. Fell Nature Preserve, one of the largest dedicated Illinois Nature Preserves in the state. For these accomplishments and many more, the highest award given annually by the Natural Areas Association, of which Fell was a founding member, is the George B. Fell Award.
Most people don’t know about George because he was not one to call attention to himself. Instead, he put his nose to the grindstone to get things done that few, if any, believed were possible.”But leaders come in many different flavors,” writes Sir Peter Crane in his foreword to the book, “and Fell, for all his strengths, was also complicated, uncompromising and single-minded to a fault. To be sure he was not easy. As Pearson demonstrates by recounting the twists and turns in a remarkable life, Fell illustrates the general rule that an individual’s greatest strength is so often also their greatest weakness. For George Fell, as with many who are driven by deep commitment and strong sense of purpose, compromise did not come easily. On more than one occasion this led Fell to a parting of the ways with the very organizations he did so much to build.”
In short, George Fell was as fascinating a man as he was a conservationist of staggering accomplishment. He was a Force of Nature in the lands he himself protected in perpetuity. He remains a Force of Nature in the organizations he launched that continue to protect lands far into the future.
A Living Addendum to the Book
Since the publication of the book, I’ve been on a quest to visit all 400+ dedicated Illinois Nature Preserves, and as many of The Nature Conservancy preserves as I can across the country. Click on any of the links below, or search for your favorite preserve by name.
Nature Preserves Blog
- Dewey Helmick — the Man Behind the Nature Preserve
- The Arsenal and the Air Station
- Death Comes in Threes
- Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation
- Nachusa Grasslands
- Hetzler Cemetery Prairie
- Carpenter Park
- Chicago Ridge Prairie