Newest Preservation Foundation board members aim to keep Lake County forest preserves thriving

Newest Preservation Foundation board members aim to keep Lake County forest preserves thriving

Chuck Bartels and Chris Heier share a passion for nature, and both spent a great deal of time fishing while growing up. Bartels enjoyed Red Lake in Ontario, while Heier spent his summers in Door County.

The men remain drawn to the outdoors, which recently led them to become the two newest board members of the Preservation Foundation, the charitable partner of the Lake County Forest Preserves. They have similar ideas about how to enhance the mission of the Forest Preserves through the independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

"The foundation drives the mission of the Lake County Forest Preserves and helps support projects and programs that might otherwise go unfunded or take many years to complete," Heier said.

With backgrounds in business, Bartels and Heier join 21 other dedicated volunteers who give their time, expertise, connections and donations to help the Forest Preserves do more.

"Chuck and Chris are ideal new board members," Preservation Foundation President Nels Leutwiler said. "They have diverse professional experiences and live in different Lake County communities, but they share a deep, personal connection to nature and the forest preserves."

Economic Driver

Chuck Bartels

Bartels, a Mundelein resident, served as a forest preserve commissioner for four years beginning in 2014. As an elected official, he learned a great deal about the mission of the Forest Preserves and the importance of restoration.

"We have to help people realize that our forest preserves are central to the quality of life in Lake County. The land is so attractive to individuals and families - and thus to jobs and economic vitality.

"The quality of life in Lake County is why people want to live here. Having good forest preserves partners with good economic development," he said.

Bartels, 77, said Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda is his favorite place to visit for the picturesque trails, and he enjoys the events at Independence Grove in Libertyville.

He has held a variety of corporate jobs, including CEO and co-owner of Manpower's area franchises. Chuck and his wife, Teresa, are now business partners and work as executive coaches. They have five sons and nine grandchildren.

Bartels started a family tradition when his children were young. He took each of his sons fishing and camping to the same location in Ontario, Canada, when they turned 12 years old. His sons now take the grandchildren to that same fishing hole up north.

In his free time, Bartels enjoys painting, a hobby he started about seven years ago. He enjoys creating landscapes, sailboats and fall scenes.

Family time in the preserves

Chris Heier

Chris Heier has early memories of spending time in nature during annual summer vacations in Door County.

"We would spend a lot of time on the water around Fish Creek. We took numerous trips to Peninsula and Whitefish Dunes state parks to walk the trails, kayak and jump off cliffs into the water."

His love for the outdoors has grown over the years, and he now enjoys spending time in the forest preserves with his family.

"Our favorite preserves are Half Day in Vernon Hills and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa. We also enjoy taking our dog to Lakewood Dog Exercise Area."

A small Preservation Foundation canoeing event at Sterling Lake in Wadsworth-based Van Patten Woods Forest Preserve ultimately drew Heier closer to the charity.

"I brought my 16-year-old son and loved the quality time we spent together while learning interesting facts about wildlife in the area," he said.

Over a barbecue lunch, he spoke with leaders of the foundation and became interested in getting more involved.

Heier, 49, worked full time as an executive recruiter for his own company until three years ago when he cut his workload to a few projects a year. He now spends most of his time as a stay-at-home father, business adviser and investor. His wife is an IT executive at AbbVie. The couple also has a 13-year-old daughter who enjoys drawing and painting. Their son spends most of his time bowling, gaming and shooting archery.

"Our family loves traveling. Our favorite place is probably Kauai. My wife is from Hawaii."

Heier enjoys golf, reading nonfiction, playing games with his family and quiet morning bird watching at area preserves.

"We are so fortunate to have the second largest forest preserve district in the state right here in our backyards," he said.

Looking ahead

The new board members realize that keeping these restored lands healthy in the future is an ongoing challenge.

"We have to get the next generation to appreciate the forest preserves," Bartels said.

Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda is a favorite for Chuck Bartels. (Note: Chuck is not in this picture.) Courtesy of Tim King

The men also realize that the forest preserves are more popular than they ever have been as a result of the pandemic. The number of visits in 2020 was 70% higher than the year before, and visits today are still 40% higher than average pre-COVID levels observed from 2016 to 2019.

"For the average Lake County resident, only about 2% of their tax bill goes to support our Lake County Forest Preserves," Leutwiler said.

For those who want to do more, there are many ways to help through the Preservation Foundation.

"One option is to give to the Annual Fund, which is a flexible source of support to meet immediate needs in restoration, public access or education," Leutwiler said. "Gifts of all sizes are meaningful."

A rare rusty patched bumble bee was spotted at Greenbelt Forest Preserve last year. The Preservation Foundation helps support healthy woodlands, grasslands and tallgrass prairies essential to the bumble bee's survival. Courtesy of Alma C. Schrage

Looking ahead, Leutwiler said the foundation is working to secure $20 million in endowment funds by the end of 2025. The endowment fund will provide a permanent funding source for planting native trees, managing invasive species and conducting controlled burns - all critical ongoing land management activities.

"The endowment will also provide a steady source of matching funds necessary to secure outside grants and donations in order to advance future projects," he said.

• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.

Lake County Forest Preserves

• Lake County Forest Preserves staff manages more than 31,000 acres of land for conservation, recreation and education.

• About 4 million visitors experience the forest preserves annually.

• Staff maintains 209 miles of trail and 64 sites.

• There are more than 6,000 Preservation Foundation donors.

• Lake County Forest Preserves planted 2,940 trees representing 24 species at 16 preserves from 2019 through 2021.

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