Karen Tellef is a familiar face along the Plum Creek Greenway Trail at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve, but maybe not quite as familiar as her horse.
Tellef is a volunteer trail sentinel for the Forest Preserve District of Will County, and the Plum Creek Greenway Trail is the path she helps to steward. She said she considers it her home trail because she boards her horse, an 8-year-old Morgan gelding who goes by the name of Raz, nearby.
She said enjoys her work as a trail sentinel, which involves traveling the trail regularly and interacting with visitors as well as reporting back to the District about any problems, such as fallen trees, flooding, vandalism or people engaging in other activities that are prohibited in the forest preserves.
For her, the best part of being a sentinel is meeting and talking with visitors, many of whom enjoy seeing her and Raz on the trail.
"Because I am almost always riding my horse on the trail, I also get to stop and talk to people, let them pet my horse and teach them about safety around animals," she explained. "I've been in a lot of family photographs!"
LEARN MORE ABOUT VOLUNTEERING
Volunteering as a trail sentinel also gives Tellef an opportunity to interact with other equestrian users on the trail and make sure everyone is following the rules.
Her connection with horse clubs in eastern Will County led her to first becoming involved with the Forest Preserve District. In 1997, she commented on the Forest Preserve District's Comprehensive Needs Assessment Plan, and then in 2001 she served on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the county's Land Resource Management Plan.
"I enjoyed the entire process of researching, presenting our findings through the county and following it through to the final plan," she said.
Her involvement at the county level led her to represent her horse club during the planning process for the Wauponsee Glacial Trail. She was also a vocal supporter during the development of the Plum Creek Greenway Trail at Goodenow Grove.
Tellef has volunteered at the District's "Snow Day Festival," which in previous years was known as "Musher Mania." In recent years, she has been working as a parking lot attendant at the event, something she has come to enjoy doing.
"I'm usually the first one people see, so I enjoy welcoming them, answering questions, etc.," she said.
The most challenging conditions she has worked under were at this year's "Snow Day Festival," which was held in the middle of one of the worst winters on record for Will County. Adding to that, this year's event truly was a snow day festival, held in the midst of blizzard-like conditions.
Tellef said it was the coldest temperatures she could remember, with howling winds and blowing snow to boot.
"I was stationed at the crosswalk between the parking lot and the buildings, bundled up as much as I could," she said.
She said she was impressed by the number of people who attended the "Snow Day Festival" in spite of the harsh weather conditions and were able to have a great time celebrating the season.
For Tellef, volunteering and being active in her community is a part of being a good citizen. She is self-employed as a computer software designer, so her work schedule allows her time to volunteer. In addition to volunteering with the Forest Preserve District, she is also volunteer chairwoman of the Crete Zoning Board of Appeals/Planning Commission and serves on Crete's TIF Advisory Board.
"I have plenty of flexible time, and I like to spend it doing something active," she said.
Stay up-to-date on the happenings in Will County's forest preserves by subscribing to The Citizen, our weekly digital newsletter that provides subscribers with updates on Forest Preserve news, upcoming events, and other fun and useful information for the whole family. If you're only interested in programs, subscribe to The Weekly Five, which outlines the five must-do programs each week. Signing up for either newsletter is easy and free of charge.