Bernie Twait has spent decades of his life volunteering, pursuing his own interests and hobbies as a way for him to also help better his community. And for many years now, the Forest Preserve District has been one of the recipients of his goodwill.
Twait volunteers in several capacities for the District, including as a trail sentinel and interpreter. At one time, he also served as a campground host. His work as an interpreter at Lake Renwick Preserve dates back about 20 years and stems from his love of birds.
“I have enjoyed bird-watching since I was young while living on the farm,” he said.
In fact, his love of birds and their movements and activities in the area led to the realization in the 1970s that bluebirds were no longer nesting in northern Illinois, the result of wooden fence posts being removed from area farms. With the wooden fence posts gone, woodpeckers were no longer creating cavities in the wood. This had an effect on the bluebirds, Twait said, because they built their nests in these cavities.
Recognizing the bluebirds had few nesting locations left, Twait said he decided to build some Peterson-style bluebird houses – essentially a birdhouse with a slanted front – which are ideal for bluebird nesting. He then distributed them to Will County farms to set up in their fields. Shortly after, he saw that bluebirds had returned to Will County.
“How exciting it is to see bluebirds return to the farm that I had enjoyed so much as a boy …,” he said.
LEARN MORE ABOUT VOLUNTEERING
One of Twait’s proudest opportunities to serve the District is as a trail sentinel, a volunteer position he has held since 2008. He started as a sentinel soon after the Wauponsee Glacial Trail had been completed. He said he enjoyed cycling and was eager to ride the trail, but soon found a section of it had been overtaken by people riding dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles, which are not allowed on Forest Preserve property.
The dirt bike and ATV riders were making the trail unsafe for cyclists and equestrians, and he said he had several “near-miss accidents,” so he called the Will County Sheriff’s Office for help. Soon after, he received a call from Forest Preserve Volunteer Supervisor Renee Gauchat asking him to serve as a trail sentinel, which he agreed to and started immediately. As a sentinel, he would call the Forest Preserve District police when he saw the dirt bike and ATV riders on the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, but it was difficult to catch them illegally using the trail.
After many calls to the Forest Preserve District police and the sheriff’s office, several of the violators were caught. For his actions and efforts, Twait was given an award for special acts at the Forest Preserve District’s awards banquet in 2010.
“The trail had finally been returned to its original primary function,” he said.
Twait’s volunteer activities haven’t been limited to the Forest Preserve District. He also volunteered at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie for 12 years, helping complete many construction projects including several bridges over creeks and roads.
The largest bridge construction project he was involved with at Midewin was a 165-foot, 65-ton bridge designed to carry firetrucks to the far side of the prairie. The bridge was built by a large team of volunteers over seven days. Twait also volunteered to help build the shed that houses the hydraulic controls for the bison corral along with the hydraulics used to operate the chute where the bison are brought for examination.
Twait said his work at Midewin was particularly rewarding because he was able to use skills related to his 40-year engineering career.
All of his volunteer work, including that with the Forest Preserve District and Midewin as well as helping with the garden landscape at his church, is meaningful to him because he is able to use his skills and interests to give back.
“It is very rewarding to see the results of my efforts doing the things I enjoy,” he said.
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