When Ruth Meyer retired after more than 40 years as a hair dresser, she made it a goal to give back to her community through volunteering.
She said she knew there were many places where she could volunteer that would help better her community, but doing something outdoors just felt like the right fit for her. Being a part of the Will County Audubon Society led her to the Forest Preserve District's Lake Renwick Preserve in Plainfield, but that was just the start for Meyer.
“(Volunteering at Lake Renwick) led to so many other options for me,” she said. “It was awesome.”
Today, Meyer still volunteers at Lake Renwick, but she also wears many other hats. For example, she serves as a trail sentinel at Rock Run Preserve – Paul V. Nichols Access in Joliet. She said being a sentinel is a natural extension of enjoying the District's trails.
Her responsibilities as a sentinel include reporting any property damage and downed or damaged trees to Forest Preserve District staff and making sure trail rules are being followed by preserve users while she's out and about.
Meyer also helps with species monitoring, including butterflies at Braidwood Dunes and Savanna Nature Preserve in Braidwood and frogs at Theodore Marsh in Crest Hill. She initially got started with monitoring at Lake Renwick, where she observed the bluebird population. Unfortunately, that program was discontinued a few years ago, because there are no longer any bluebirds at Lake Renwick.
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Helping with monitoring has introduced Meyer to parts of the county she was unfamiliar with, including Braidwood Dunes and Savanna, she explained.
“It’s a really pretty area that I don’t think people realize we have,” she said, adding the preserve is home to many native plant species, including the prickly pear cactus.
Monitoring has also been fulfilling because the information she collects is passed along for other groups to use. For example, the butterfly data she records is used by the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, and information about frogs at Theodore Marsh helps determine water quality.
“I just feel like I’m helping other groups use my information," she said.
Through the years, Meyer has become a familiar face at many of the Forest Preserve District's programs and events, at Lake Renwick and beyond. One event she looks forward to each year is the "Bringing Nature Home" Native Plant Sale, hosted by The Nature Foundation of Will County and held each spring at the Sugar Creek Administration Center in Joliet.
Meyer is an avid gardener, and the plant sale is both a chance to interact with others who share her interest and add to her own backyard garden, which she said is approaching capacity.
One common thread weaving through her volunteer work is the social aspect.
“I do enjoy talking to people," said Meyer, who also volunteers at Morton Arboretum. "I like to get them involved.”
The people she encounters are typically eager for information, which she said she finds refreshing. They are always appreciative of the knowledge she has to share, whether it's pointing out a turkey vulture flying overhead or sharing general Forest Preserve information at a District event.
“I’ve never had a negative experience," she explained. "They are interested in what you have to say, and that’s a joy for me.”
Kids, in particular, are fun to work with because you can see the connections they are making to what they are learning about, she said.
“I get to see the sparkle in (their) eyes.”
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