Volunteering with the Forest Preserve District of Will County is a natural extension of Jeanne Golec’s passions and interests. Today, more than 15 years after starting her volunteer work, she is still going strong, learning and growing as she goes.
“After being a stay-at-home mom for awhile, I was looking to get out of the house and find something else to do,” Golec said. “I love nature and being outdoors, and Hickory Creek Barrens (Nature Preserve) is just a short distance from my house, so it just seemed like a natural thing to do.”
Among Golec’s volunteer tasks is wildlife monitoring. She currently monitors both dragonflies and mussels for the District. She has been monitoring dragonflies at Braidwood Dunes since about 2007, although she took a break for awhile to complete her bachelor’s degree. She’s newer to monitoring mussels, starting a few years ago.
She said dragonfly monitoring involves following a regular route through the preserve with her monitoring partner. One of them observes and the other records what they see. They do this several times between May and October, and then record their data on the Illinois Dragonfly Monitoring Network website.
“It’s always fascinating to see the variety of dragonflies that occur at Braidwood, and we get really excited when we find something new and different, like the lancet clubtail or the black-shouldered spinyleg,” she said.
Monitoring mussels is much different than monitoring dragonflies, she said. Golec and her monitoring partner have done mussel monitoring at Spring Creek at Hadley Valley, choosing a spot in the creek to look for the bivalves.
Finding the mussels in the water isn’t the only tricky part. She said it can also be difficult to identify the species. In fact, some of the mussels she and her partner found were incorrectly identified. She doesn’t let it discourage her, though. Even though they were a little embarrassed, “we didn’t feel too bad, as we’ve seen the experts get them wrong too.”
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“That’s nature and the nature of monitoring,” she explained. “It’s always a learning experience.”
Golec hasn’t limited her volunteer work to monitoring. She said she considers herself a jack-of-all-trades, lending a hand with whatever the District needs. She has helped with cutting brush at volunteer workdays, assisted with the annual Native Plant Sale and worked with school groups at Four Rivers Environmental Education Center in Channahon and Plum Creek Nature Center in Crete Township.
She said enjoys all her volunteer work, but that she gets the most satisfaction from working with kids and families, because it gives her a chance to pass along her love of nature and the outdoors.
“It’s a real accomplishment to me when I can convince (children) that being out in nature is not something they should be afraid of,” she said.
Through volunteering she has met many kids afraid of what they might encounter while being in nature. She said she is proud that she is able to teach them and help them overcome that fear and uncertainty.
“Sometimes I’ll just pick up a bug or a spider and hold it in my hand and just share with them all the cool and interesting things I know about it,” she said. “So many times, that’s all they need, someone to show it won’t hurt them. And pretty soon they’re not so afraid and maybe even want to hold that little critter too!”
Volunteering with the Forest Preserve is both educational and rewarding because of all the training that is provided, Golec said.
She said she enjoys all of her work, on projects and tasks big and small.
“We’ve been given a beautiful world here,” she commented. “Volunteering is a way for me to help take care of it.”