IDNR Outstanding Volunteers honored

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, IDNR, on Saturday, Aug. 19, recognized recipients of the 2023 Outstanding Volunteer of the Year awards.

The department expressed gratitude to individuals and members of outdoor organizations for their volunteer service to IDNR and the people of Illinois. Among those honored were two area residents.

“Volunteers are vital to the operation and upkeep of state parks, historic sites, state museum facilities, and nature preserves,” IDNR director Natalie Phelps Finnie said in a news release. 

“Volunteering can be hard work, but it’s important work and it benefits everyone who enjoys IDNR sites throughout the state. We are pleased to recognize their extraordinary efforts on behalf of the people of Illinois.”

Among those honored as 2023 IDNR Outstanding Volunteers of the Year were:

Kathy Tolson of Cobden. Tolson has served as a volunteer and Master Naturalist at the Trail of Tears State Forest in Union County since July 2022. 

Tolson was trained in all aspects of bluebird nest box monitoring.

She came to the site weekly to check, clean, maintain and log information about the success or failure of each nest box. 

After nesting season, she got involved with clearing fire trails for deer season, clearing a substantial portion of 44 fire trails at a critical time at a site with limited staffing. 

In between trail work, she has helped clean out the native flower pollinator beds for winter, has assisted with office work, helped clear debris from campsites after storms, posted signs along trails, restocked trail brochures and more. 

Pat Racana of Makanda. Racana has been a volunteer at Giant City State Park near Makanda since 2015 and is a member of the Friends of Giant City Board. 

Racana volunteers at the Giant City State Park visitors center every Saturday, which is the busiest day of the week for the park. 

IDNR noted in a news release that Racana “is always enthusiastic about tourism, travel and the outdoors, and he’s quick to share his enthusiasm with visitors.”

During the 2017 eclipse, he volunteered for a job that most other volunteers would not want: trash and bathrooms. He also was one of the first people to sign up to volunteer for the 2024 eclipse.



The Gazette-Democrat

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Anna, Illinois 62906
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