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Article updated: 4/24/2013 6:22 PM

Lake Co. conservation leader leaving for new post

By Mick Zawislak

One of Lake County's conservation leaders will leave an organization that has become instrumental in pursuing and coordinating efforts to protect open space.

Steve Barg, in his 11th year as executive director of Conserve Lake County, will head west across Illinois to head the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation in Jo Daviess County. His final day is June 7.

Barg and his wife, Susan, a massage therapist, are empty-nesters who were considering the final stages of their careers and thinking about moving to a more rural environment.

The couple know people in the Galena area and were considering what Barg describes as a landscape of rivers and ridges when an offer was presented.

"It's a unique opportunity at the right time," he said. "I really wasn't looking."

The pending move was relayed this week by Charles O'Connell, president of the Conserve Lake County's board, who said its conservation impact dramatically expanded under Barg's leadership.

"Conserve Lake County has been able to form a community around conservation that has included a lot of organizations and people to share values," and a vision, Barg said.

The Liberty Prairie Conservancy was established in 1995 by citizens concerned about development pressures to protect and preserve the 5,800-acre Liberty Prairie Reserve between Grayslake and Libertyville.

Barg had been working in the conservation field in Lake County since 1986, first as a teacher at the Heller Nature Center and later as director of education at the Lake Forest Open Lands Association. He joined the Liberty Prairie Conservancy in January 2003.

The next year, it expanded its service area and became a countywide conservation organization, which allowed it to buy land or accept donations of land or conservation easements.

About 500 acres, including the Casey Farm just north of Libertyville, have since been protected. But it was the evolution of a shared strategy that includes connecting trails and linking properties, for example, that became a key characteristic.

"He did a tremendous job bridging all the different organizations together ... to buy into one vision of Lake County," said Bonnie Thomson Carter, a Lake County Board member, who began her eight-year tenure as president of the Lake County Forest Preserve District when Barg arrived.

A pending example will be the connection under Milwaukee Avenue of the Libertyville Township trail through the Casey property with the forest district's Des Plaines River Trail, she said.

The organization changed the name last year to represent the variety of activities it is involved with, including the Conservation@Home sustainable food programs.

Barg and Tom Hahn, who recently retired as the forest district's executive director, will be recognized Thursday at Conserve Lake County's annual meeting. Newsman Bill Kurtis is the featured guest.

For the first time, registration for the event was closed after the 325-person capacity at Independence Grove in Libertyville was reached.

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