How to stay connected to Lake County Forest Preserves

An interview with Katherine Hamilton-Smith, director of Public Affairs and Development at the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska

Residence: Libertyville

Q. Tell us a little bit about your role at the Lake County Forest Preserves.

A. My department manages public information, marketing, digital and fundraising for the forest preserves. I work to help the public know what is available to them in their forest preserves, so that they can use and enjoy them year-round.

I also encourage the public to get actively involved through volunteering or through gifts to our charitable partner, the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves.

Q. Tell us a little background about yourself.

A. I was born and raised in Nebraska. I spent three years in Scotland in college studying at the ancient St. Andrews University (founded in 1410), received a B.A. from the University of Nebraska, and an M.A. from the University of Chicago. Both degrees are in art and art history. My profession is museums and archives, and I'm a certified archivist. I began my career with the forest preserves, hired fresh out of grad school, to create the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, now part of the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Q: There are several ways to connect with the LCFP. One of them is Horizons. Tell us about that.

A. Our free, quarterly magazine, Horizons, is your go-to for current information about forest preserve programming and projects, plus features, beautifully illustrated with lush photographs and dynamic graphic design. The front cover is a special treat, worthy of framing. Each season, an eye-popping image is carefully selected from scores of candidates, many submitted to our Flickr pool by local photographers.

Q. There are also many social media avenues. What can people look for?

A. We share information about upcoming programs, events, day-to-day happenings, completed preserve projects, new initiatives, volunteer success, beautiful photos, videos and more on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you haven't yet, like and follow us @LCFPD.

Flickr is a way for the public to share with us, and other photo enthusiasts, the images they capture while visiting our forest preserves. We are regularly amazed at what is posted. Photos shared to us on Flickr are often featured in our quarterly Horizons publication.

And download our mobile app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store; search for Lake County Forest Preserves.

Q: What about becoming a donor? Tell us about that.

A. If you love the forest preserves, become a donor. You can give the gift of time through volunteering. Monetary or planned gifts of any size help us to extend or accelerate the basic services we provide with tax support.

Whether you become a "Turtle Champion" in support of our Blanding's Turtle Recovery Program, leave a legacy gift in your estate plan, or anything in between, it all helps the Lake County Forest Preserves to not merely exist, but to grow and thrive - now and for generations to come.

Q. What is one interesting fact about the forest preserves that many people may not know.

A. Since 1958, we've been preserving and restoring land for conservation, recreation and education. Today, we protect nearly 31,000 acres and are the second largest forest preserve district in the state of Illinois, second only to Cook County. Natural lands we own and manage as open space represent more than 10 percent of all the land in Lake County, and it's packed with opportunities for you to explore.

Q. On the personal side, what are two words that describe you best?

A. Curious. Creative.

Q. Who is your mentor? Why?

A. I think of entertainer, humanitarian, and Renaissance man Danny Kaye (1913-87) as my mentor. Kaye was talented, handsome, funny, kind, loving, and stylish - - and worked to help others, especially children.

He was a polymath, expert cook of Chinese cuisine, jet pilot, orchestra conductor, dancer, and comedian. I've admired him all my life, and longed to meet him when I was a little girl. Even though I never did meet him, I have kept his astonishing qualities in my heart as a personal and professional model of how to live life.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A. As an artist and writer, I spend time painting, sketching, taking photographs, or working on the next great American novel. Travel, gardening, reading, singing, physical fitness, and visiting museums and historic sites are also top of my nonwork list.

Q. What was your first paying job?

A. My first paying job was at Taylor's Tasty Freeze in the Benson part of Omaha, Nebraska. I was in high school. It was my first experience of thinking about what good customer service can mean to a business.

Q. Do you have a favorite forest preserve?

A. Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, south of Libertyville, is my favorite. In all seasons, it has a kind of mystical beauty; like an enchanted forest. When my sons were younger (they are now 17 and 23), it was to Wright Woods we would go to balance on the edge of the little concrete dam, sit by the lake perched on big boulders, cross the Des Plaines River Bridge, and look through the ice at the cold water flowing underneath. Wright Woods is, for me, a place of magic and memories.

Q. What is one question I forgot to ask?

A. You forgot to ask why I love working for the Lake County Forest Preserves! It's because I am surrounded by fellow staff who are passionate about their work, who bring excellence, creativity and love to everything they do, and who lift each other up in the process.

And it's because the work we do, and the vision that guides us, contributes in such a major way to the quality of life in Lake County, now and for the future. What could be better than that?

• 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.

Katherine Hamilton-Smith's department manages public information, marketing, digital and fundraising. Horizon's magazine is one way to connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves. Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves
Trillium carpet Captain Daniel Wright Woods Forest Preserve in the spring. Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves
Katherine Hamilton-Smith Courtesy of Studio West Photography

Ways to connect


Phone: (847) 367-6640

General offices: 1899 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville

Horizons email:


Twitter: @LCFPD Flickr:

Instagram: @LCFPD

Download the mobile app in the Apple App Store or Google play store; search for Lake County Forest Preserves

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