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Families convene with nature at annual Nature Trails Day — this year at Comlara Park

A woman sits at a picnic table in a park pavilion. Behind her is lush grass and trees, and a playground with slides and climbing gyms.
Lauren Warnecke
Master naturalist Ann Lamkey helped organize Nature Trails Day at Comlara Park, where she'll be assisting kids with making butterfly bracelets and teaching about the life cycle of monarch butterflies.

Nature Trails Day is returning for another family-friendly romp through the woods, celebrating Illinois’ rich biodiversity.

After years at Sugar Grove Nature Center, the Sept. 16 festival is moving to Comlara Park at Evergreen Lake near Hudson.

The Illinois Grand Prairie Master Naturalists, a division of the University of Illinois Extension, organize and host the free event that runs from 10 a.m. –1 p.m. and is centered around three pavilions near the park’s visitors center. Families are advised to stop there first for the day’s schedule.

Two guided nature walks start at 10:15 a.m. sharp from trailheads near the visitors center.

From there, you can venture to Osage pavilion, where master naturalist Ann Lamkey will be leading a bracelet-making activity.

“When you come to my table, you’re going to make a butterfly bracelet,” she said. “We’re going to talk about the life stages of the monarch butterfly and why that’s so important.”

Getting people into the great outdoors is the main objective of the free Nature Trails Day. But naturalists like Lamkey also hope to impart other of pearls of wisdom about the natural world. She's been interested in nature since girlhood and practices what she preaches: her back yard is grass-free and filled with native plants.

“We are trying to partner with families to teach them, one family at a time, to be better stewards of the earth,” Lamkey said.

Like-minded organizations like Parklands Foundation, the Audubon Society, Central Illinois Beekeepers Association, the Illinois State University Horticulture Center, to name a few, will have informational tables. And Wildlife Prairie Park will give a live animal presentation at noon.

"How cool is that?" Lamkey said.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit Sugar Grove Nature Center reduced programming in a reorganization that led to all four of its staff members being laid off by the board of directors.

Lamkey said the move from Sugar Grove to Comlara Park is part of an effort by area master naturalists to showcase a variety of nature preserves in McLean, Woodford and Livingston counties. Comlara — an acronym for County of McLean Lakes and Recreation Area — is managed McLean County Parks and Recreation, though portions of Evergreen Lake extend into southeast Woodford County.

“The staff has been fantastic to work with here,” said Lamkey. The location’s conveniences include easy access to parking, restrooms and a playground — plus more ephemeral benefits like cinematic views of Evergreen Lake and rows of mature osage-orange trees.

“This is something for the entire family that families can do together,” said Lamkey, who suggests the 10:15 a.m. family hike as an entry-level, low-stakes introduction to nature. “It’s not very long, and you’re going to be going with a very experienced hiker and naturalist to learn more about what’s out there.”

“Just come and get out in nature,” she said. “It’s very healing.”

Nature Trails Day takes place from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at Comlara Park, 13001 Recreation Area Drive, Hudson. All activities are free. Participants are encouraged to bring sturdy shoes, a picnic lunch — and bug spray.

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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