Conservation Champion Awards

Do you know a Conservation Champion?

Call for Nominations! 
McHenry County Conservation District is seeking nominations of individuals who are and have been Conservation Champions for the Public Open Space of McHenry County. These two Conservation Awards, Conservation Champion and Conservation Legacy, recognize exceptional contributions of individuals who have made extraordinary impacts to the conservation movement through their continued dedication and support of the mission of the Conservation District.

Conservation-LEGACY-Award_FINALConservation Legacy Award recognizes contributions that transcend time. Whether the award winner dedicated ten or fifty years towards the local environment, their work should live on well past their earthly lifetime. Their legacy should be a gift to their community, as well as the plant life and wildlife within it. Regardless of how many lives they touched, Conservation Legacy Award winners need to have inspired others to become stewards of the land.


Conservation-CHAMPION-Award_FINAL-237x300Conservation Champion Award recognizes individuals who have made one or more contributions of extraordinary significance or impact to the conservation movement through their continued dedication and support of the mission of the Conservation District. Significant contributions can include leadership, innovation, environmental legislation, community building, restoration fieldwork, citizen science and volunteering, donations of money and land. 


To nominate a Conservation Champion or Legacy Award, download a nomination form and submit electronically to Nominations accepted through December 31. 

For more information contact Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler at (815) 338-6223.

Award Recipients


Dave Brandt -
Conservation Champion

Dave Brandt plays a pivotal role as a long-standing District volunteer, serving not only one, but two terms on the Board of Trustees for a total of ten years (2010-2015, 2016-2021). However, what makes Dave extraordinary is he got out from behind the board room table. He took every opportunity to lend his expertise and experience as a Natural Resource and Soils Specialist to volunteering at numerous environmental programs and special events. His positive attitude was always welcome and he is considered "a rock star" amongst Conservation District employees. Whenever possible Dave was quick to recognize employee projects and  accomplishments and give "shout-outs" for time and effort put in, indirectly building morale and driving  progress and momentum forward. By sharing his leadership, knowledge and dedication with the District, Dave has helped to guide the trajectory the District continues on to this day. Dave embodies the mission and vision of the District. His tireless effort, devotion toward promoting conservation and overall love for McHenry County shines through. His contributions have certainly left an impact, whereby the residents of McHenry County, including the flora and fauna, have benefited from his continued support.


Dave Schweagler - Conservation Champion

Dave Schwaegler has been a volunteer for the Conservation District for thirty-four years! The time he has spent, primarily at Lake in the Hills Fen Conservation Area, and his passion for conservation are nothing short of astounding. Dave contributes to several volunteer conservation efforts including Plants of Concern monitoring, bird and butterfly monitoring, seed collection, the 2020-2021 Phenology Projects, and habitat restoration management efforts. Over the years he has studied the preservation, geologic history and ecology of Lake in the Hills Fen Conservation Area in great depth. Beyond the impacts towards conservation Dave makes at the 400-acre Fen, he plays a role as a teacher, mentor and guide. With a background in teaching, his contributions are able to expand to others, encouraging active involvement in the Fen's rich history and diverse ecology. “I always appreciated Dave's careful and insightful explanations of what the Fen is and how it developed. Dave is a gifted teacher who clearly enjoys teaching others about this incredible place,” stated fellow steward Pete Jackson. With his variety of impressive endeavors, Dave has upheld all aspects of the Conservation District’s mission and continues to imprint his mastery of the Fen to all those that cross his path.


Kenneth Fiske - Conservation Legacy

Kenneth Van Dyne Fiske assisted with the legislation that established Conservation Districts in the State of Illinois and served as the District's first Executive Director from 1971 to 1985. Both Ken and his late wife Darlene were pillars of the conservation community for years in McHenry County. Throughout his career, Ken achieved numerous accomplishments and accolades. In 1952, he was selected as the Illinois Conservation Farmer of the Year. In 1969, Ken founded the Northeast Illinois Natural Resource Service Center, based at the Morton Arboretum, a precursor of today’s Chicago Wilderness. He developed research centers related to conservation for a chemical company; invented a machine to apply chemicals in a more conservation-friendly way; served for 30 years on the McHenry County Soil and Water Conservation District board; served as a board member of Openlands; chaired Illinois Nature Preserves Commission; help found the McHenry County Conservation Foundation; and in 2004, was inducted into the Illinois Outdoor Hall of Fame by the Illinois Conservation Foundation. Ken was professionally trained in natural resources and had a love for the outdoors, but what made him exceptional was that he was also a competent administrator, connected at the local, state and federal level.  During his time with the Conservation District he oversaw the acquisition of over 2,900 acres that were the beginnings of 14 different parcels of sites we know today as: Beck’s Woods, Harrison-Benwell, Thomas Woods in Marengo Woods, Coral Woods, The Hollows, Glacial Park, Grundstrom Woods, Hickory Grove and Lyons Prairie  & Marsh, Nippersink Canoe Base, Elizabeth Lake, Rush Creek, Stickney Run and the Prairie Trail. For those who had the opportunity to know Ken personally have fond memories of his warm smile, sense of humor, love of community, and passion for conservation and conversation. He and Darlene, who proceeded him in death, did so much for conservation in McHenry County and will be remembered as such.


weg thomas

William "Weg" Thomas - Conservation Champion

Weg Thomas is known for his distinctive photographs of McHenry County’s landscapes spanning a period of nearly 50 years, but few people are aware of his long history with the Conservation District. In 1972, Ken Fiske, the District’s first Executive Director, hired Weg to communicate the mission and work of the fledgling Conservation District to the citizens of McHenry County. This presented a unique opportunity for Weg to use his art, writing and marketing skills in meaningful way while working alongside passionate environmental advocates to preserve the natural areas and open spaces of McHenry County. The job also closely aligned with his recreational interests – hiking, camping, kayaking and canoeing – and gave him plenty of reasons to get outdoors. As the District began to acquire land and expand its protection of open space, Weg ventured out to explore and map the newly purchased sites with his 1948 Boy Scout compass, pacing off trails and recording the locations of woods, prairies and water features in his notebook. Back in the office, Weg drew site maps by hand using pen and ink – standard practices before GIS, GPS, digital cameras, computer graphics and desktop publishing came to the workplace. Today, Weg continues to support the District as a freelance photographer and volunteer. He photographs education programs and events, showcases our volunteer efforts, and documents the beauty of our conservation areas. When asked if he has a favorite site, Weg seemed incredulous, as if I had asked him name his favorite child. “Don’t ask me to choose just one!” Weg has been an active member of the larger McHenry County environmental community, and his photos have graced annual reports, websites, brochures, art exhibits and calendars of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, Volo Bog State Natural Area, Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, Open Lands, and the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County. “I think everyone can agree that the District has been remarkably successful in preserving natural areas. However, for me personally, it’s also about the people who have contributed their time and talents to making sure that open space remains open and protected for future generations. It was a privilege to work with Ken Fiske, Bill Wingate, Bill Howenstine and many other staff members, and I am grateful for the many unforgettable experiences we shared. Life is precious – it’s really all about the simple things, and when I look back, I realize that I stand on the shoulders of hundreds,” stated Thomas. 


chuck dubsky

Chuck Dubsky - Conservation Legacy

McHenry County Conservation District Board of Trustees named the late Chuck Dubsky as the first recipient of the Conservation Legacy Award which honors his passion for conservation, recognizes his work as a volunteer site steward, and his willingness to mentor others. “In his role as volunteer, site steward, and citizen advisory committee member, Chuck truly left his mark. He touched many lives that will be forever changed due to his passion to conservation and the important work he did on behalf of the McHenry County Conservation District,” stated Executive Director Elizabeth Kessler. “While we most certainly appreciate everyone’s efforts, there are a special few citizens who keep giving long after passing. McHenry County Conservation District is proud to recognize these individuals whose efforts have assisted our organization in preserving our County’s beautiful and valuable natural landscapes for future generations.” Chuck Dubsky was a Conservation District volunteer for eleven years and a Site Steward at Grundstrom Woods in Wonder Lake for six of those years where he not only worked tirelessly to support his site, but also assisted several other site stewards as well. He was generous with his time and volunteered wholeheartedly. He believed deeply in healing the land and giving back through his restoration efforts. He also truly enjoyed working with young people and passing on his knowledge and love of the land. Over the years, he welcomed hundreds of high school and youth groups to restoration workdays to introduce them to the natural world. His interaction with teens was his specialty. By getting youth involved in restoring the land, he demonstrated to them the immediate impact they could have. He was a positive influence to all those students who participated. “My intent is to primarily preserve our heritage and open spaces, and pass it on,” stated Chuck during his initial volunteer interview. In 2008, part of his homestead was placed into a conservation easement with the District. Chuck also served on the District’s Citizens Advisory Committee. In addition he found time to volunteer as a plant monitor, a seed collection volunteer, and a special event volunteer for the Festival of the Sugar Maples and Trail of History where his energy, thoughtfulness, and humor was welcomed by staff and visitors alike. For those that had the opportunity to meet and work with Chuck knew his love for the natural world and to make the world a better place.



William Howenstine - Conservation Champion

Bill is the living, breathing, embodiment of a Conservation Champion. Bill was instrumental in creating and founding the McHenry County Conservation District. He was one of the first District Trustees and served on the board for two terms. Bill also wrote the District’s Conservation Ethic statement which is read at the beginning of every board meeting to remind current board members of what we represent and why we do what we do. He taught Environmental Science at Northeastern Illinois University and served as head of the Geography and Environmental Studies department until his retirement. For many years, Bill and his wife Alice have operated an organic Christmas Tree and hardwoods nursery, open to the public where they continue to educate the public on environmental topics. Bill and Alice were also involved in the creation of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County as well as ongoing promotion of conservation in McHenry County including recycling, the support of alternative energy, waste reduction, native plantings and restoration, renewable resources, and environmental education. In addition, much of their property has been placed in permanent conservation easements to preserve the land for future generations of residents including the flora and fauna which inhabit it. 


Dave Miller - Conservation Champion

Since 2005, Dave has contributed hundreds of hours of volunteer bird survey work for the District across multiple natural communities. Dave enthusiastically committed himself to this project. The data he collected provided valuable information on our impact to grassland bird communities through restoration efforts, development impact, grassland bird re-nesting, bird use by seed mix, and a better understanding of the Henslow's sparrow—habitat relationship. This work provided the foundation for data-based planning for establishment of the grassland venture program, growing season burning, and third and fourth generation grassland bird seed mixes at North Branch and Goose Lake Conservation Areas. Beyond his contributions to the District's scientific data and land management plans, Dave also has a passion for sharing his knowledge and his time to teach others. Dave has lead multiple bird walks over the years for all ages, assisting both the Education and Natural Resources Departments. His birding teaching has stimulated the creative minds of many, and the ripples of his passion will undoubtedly be felt in future generations.