Good Natured in Kane County: Certified naturalist program offered nature lovers

Classes set at Hickory Knolls in St. Charles

The Kane County Certified Naturalist program attracts adult learners from all walks of life.

We couldn’t believe our eyes.

The date was Saturday, May 6, 2023. The time, around 10 a.m. The place, Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn.

And the sight before us? Er, make that above us? A male scarlet tanager flitting about the branches of a centuries-old oak, plucking insects from among the sprouting leaves. The deep contrast between the rich crimson of his contour feathers and the velvety black on his wings and tail was positively breathtaking.

The scene became even more spectacular with the discovery of his mate, a captivating but hard-to-spot individual decked out in olive and yellow – colors nearly indistinguishable from the spring-green foliage that surrounded her. She, too, was foraging, and seemingly oblivious to the group of awed humans standing below.

This, my friends, is but one of many memorable encounters experienced by participants in our annual Kane County Certified Naturalist program. Since its inception in 2007, we’ve recorded lots of others, and are looking forward to many more. For now is the time that we are preparing for KCCN 2024 – our 17th year of classes, field trips and fun.

Part outdoor education, part social network and part self-help group for incurable nature nerds, KCCN is a year-long program designed for adults who want to learn more about the natural history of our great county, and also find out about ways to put that knowledge to good use. KCCN begins in January with six weeks of “core” courses in basic ecology, geology, Kane County ecosystems and ecological restoration. These classroom sessions, which are held on six consecutive Thursday evenings, are followed by four Saturday field trips in April, May and June. During these excursions, class members visit area parks, forest preserves and museums that best illustrate the concepts discussed during class.

The Kane County Certified Naturalist program attracts adult learners from all walks of life.

Specific dates and topics for this year’s core classes, which will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Hickory Knolls in St. Charles, are:

• Jan. 11 – Ecology and Insects

• Jan. 18 – Geology and Soils

• Jan. 25 – Woodlands and Mammals

• Feb. 1 – Wetlands and Herps

• Feb. 8 – Prairies and Birds

• Feb. 15 – Watersheds and Groundwater and Aquatic Systems

And for field trips:

• April 13 – Geology at Hickory Knolls

• May 4 – Woodlands at Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve

• May 18 – Wetlands at Island Park, Geneva

• June 22 – Prairies at Dick Young Forest Preserve, Batavia

From there, participants will have until April 30, 2025, to complete an additional 30 hours of continuing education and/or volunteering at any one of the three participating agencies: Geneva Park District, Forest Preserve District of Kane County and St. Charles Park District.

A one-time fee of $350 covers costs for the entire year. Upon completion of these requirements, graduates are celebrated with pomp and circumstance – and a campfire – during an evening ceremony attended by not only family and friends, but also the growing legion of other KCCNers re-upping their certification.

If you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you’re interested in participating. If so, but you still have questions, we have answers! We’ll be hosting our annual KCCN Information Session at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center in St. Charles. (Need directions?

We also have a “Frequently Asked Questions” document I’d be happy to send to you; just shoot me an email at the address below.

And finally, if you’ve read enough and would like to go ahead and sign up, we’ve got you covered there, too. Registration opens at 8 a.m. Friday, Nov. 10, and is handled through the Geneva Park District at, or by calling 630-232-4542 or Peck Farm Park Manager Adam Dagley at 630-262-8244. Reference the program code 5411901-01.

Class size is limited, so if you’re thinking about enrolling, don’t put your decision off too long. Scarlet tanagers and a host of other Kane County nature attractions – and nature enthusiasts – are waiting for you!

• Pam Otto is outreach ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at