Always with a smile, Kelly Schultz, the native seed nursery coordinator for the Lake County Forest Preserve District, talks to volunteers about separating seeds from native plants at the Native Plants Nursery in Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve in Grayslake.
The Elgin native has worked for the district for the past four years and enjoys every minute of it.
"It is an amazing job," Schultz said, "There are days that I have to pinch myself because I get to see some of the best sites we have."
Schultz spends a lot of time out in the preserves to focus on the rarest of plants there.
"I get to go out and learn about these species and learn about their habitats and learn how we can protect them and keep them around for generations to come."
As a child, Schultz spent time outdoors with her father in Indian Princesses and later with the Girl Scouts, camping and playing in the woods.
Schultz received her degree in environmental studies from Washington University in St. Louis.
She interned at the Kane County Forest Preserve District and worked with restoration crews at different area park districts.
But it was her job working in the greenhouses with native plants at Spring Valley Nature Center and the Schaumburg Park District, that eventually landed her the job in Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve.
She is responsible for organizing volunteers, collecting seeds and looking for rare plants in natural habitats. Those seeds will then help make new prairies, forests and wetlands.
At the nursery, they grow 15,000 to 20,000 native plants from 200 species every year and it is the time consuming, tedious process of collecting the seeds that makes it possible.
"We are trying to focus our nursery work more on some the rarer species that aren't doing so well in the wild," explained Schultz, "Understanding what it takes to grow the plant; how do the seeds germinate? What can we do to make them happier and healthier?"
But it is working with volunteers that seems to make Schultz the happiest.
"Volunteers are awesome. These volunteers walk in with a big smile on their face and are excited to be here and help out," Schultz said with a smile as she works side-by-side with them sorting seeds. "I love working with volunteers. We have been building up a nice community here."