Notes From The Island

Volunteer Spotlight : Don and Espie Nelson


Don and Espie Nelson live in Plainfield, Illinois.  Don grew up on a farm near Kankakee.  Espie was from Joliet and her father grew vegetables.  Work after the ‘farm’ for Don was as a chemist.  Espie was a computer programmer before she became a stay at home mom.


Tell us a little background about yourself and what sparked your love of nature?

Since both Don and Espie had a close association with growing plants when young, it is not that unusual that they still enjoy working with the soil.  They got their introduction to native prairies when they went on field trips with The Nature Conservancy to special sites in the state. These were all fun trips, no work involved.  The work and education began in the early years of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.  In the summer, they also volunteer at the Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum.  The restoration work with the Will County Forest Preserve District (and as stewards of the Vermont Cemetery Nature Preserve) continues year round.  The Nelsons also own a 35 acre parcel of land, Lily Cache Prairie, that is being restored to native prairie and wetlands.  They have done Plants of Concern monitoring and continue that monitoring on a limited basis at the Forest Preserve, Lily Cache Prairie, and now at Langham Island.

How did you get involved with Langham Island?

The Nelsons got involved with Langham Island after the 2014 INPS Annual Meeting at Camp Shaw.  They have ‘cut brush’ at many high quality sites.  Langham is certainly in that category and needs some high quality work to make it shine again.  

What motivates you to keep coming back to volunteer days?

Don and Espie think the core volunteers of Langham Island are great people to work with.  They have had varied experiences and have used different methods with restorations at their sites. Some results were positive, some were negative.  All views and ideas are explored to come up with the best solution for Langham Island. We learn from each other when sharing thoughts.

What is your favorite tool? Why?

Don’s favorite tools are the drip torch, back pack sprayer and the chain saw.  He likes to see immediate changes.  However, when the designated task of the day requires weeding or stump painting, that job gets done.  Espie usually can be seen with a herbicide bottle in hand.  That seems to be the least favorite job for any restoration volunteer but is really an essential duty.

What are your favorite nature books or resources?

Easy to use books in the field are Newcomb’s “Wildflower Guide” and Dick Young’s “Kane County Wild Plants and Natural Areas”.  The in depth reference is always Swink and Wilhelm and “Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual” for pictures.

What is your favorite plant and why?

Don’s favorite flowers are the Cream Wild Indigo and the Leafy Prairie Clover.  Espie’s first favorite is Royal Catchfly for its intense color.  Just look at any flower with a hand lens and see details you never knew existed!

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