On the Record with Ronnie the River Otter

DeKalb has a new fuzzy and furry aquatic friend for the entire community: Ronnie the River Otter is the DeKalb Park District’s new mascot.

Ronnie began his job in October and will appear at many park district events throughout the year.

Ronnie is a playful otter, passionate about the environment, and loves to spend just as much time on land as he does in the water. Native to northern Illinois, Ronnie is thrilled river otters were removed from the state’s threatened species list in 2004.

In between swimming in the Kishwaukee River and snacking on his favorite food – fish – Ronnie spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton through Katie Drum, the park district’s official spokesperson, who helped translate because she speaks otter.

If you’d like to send correspondence, learn more about Ronnie, or any other DeKalb Park District offerings, visit www.dekalbparkdistrict.com or call 815-758-6663.

Milton: What is your role with the DeKalb Park District?

Ronnie: I am the DeKalb Park District mascot. I am here to encourage individuals, families and young children to get more involved in park district programs and live a healthier, active lifestyle. And have fun while doing it! I also want to educate the community about caring for the environment and our park system. I hope to help residents utilize our Park Watch Program and participate in Community Park Clean-Up Days throughout the year.

Milton: When did you start your job at the park district?

Ronnie: [I first began] in October 2021. I first appeared on the DeKalb Park District float at the 2021 Pumpkin Fest Parade on Oct. 31.

What do you like about DeKalb?

Ronnie: I love that we are close to nature and culture in DeKalb, and all the diversity of our community. Did you know there are 13 different otter species around the world? I really like that there is such a variety of fun things to do in our town. There’s something for all ages and interests.

Milton: What are some of your favorite activities to do in DeKalb parks?

Ronnie: I love swimming in the Kishwaukee River and Hopkins Pool and hanging out in Hopkins Park, Annie’s Woods, Prairie Park, Lions Park and River Heights Golf Course. I love sliding down the riverbanks and playing with rocks or shells. I am also very curious about the people enjoying the parks with me, so sometimes you might catch me observing you on your morning walk.

Milton: Tell me more about otters.

Ronnie: I am a semi-aquatic mammal, and the largest member of the weasel family in Illinois. You can find me in rivers, streams, and lakes, basically any habitat near timber and wetland. My favorite food is fish, but I also enjoy eating crayfish, frogs, snakes, salamanders and sometimes small turtles. We river otters wash ourselves thoroughly after every meal. We can hold our breath up to 8 minutes under water and can dive to a depth of 60 feet. I spend about two-thirds of my time on land.

Milton: Are otters native to this area of northern Illinois?

Ronnie: Yes! We were once very common in northern Illinois, but our population was severely reduced due to loss of habitat, pollution and unregulated hunting. In the late 1980s, there were as few as 100 river otters left in the entire state of Illinois, and us river otters were put on the Illinois endangered species list. Efforts to help our species in the mid-1990s upgraded us to an Illinois threatened species until recently in 2004. Our population is thriving again, so you will start seeing more of my kind in the area. Our presence in a waterway indicates a healthy ecosystem.

Milton: What local events are you interested in attending?

Ronnie: As many community events as I can. You will see me at the Polar-palooza Winter Festival on Feb. 5.

Milton: How will you spend the winter holidays?

Ronnie: I’ll be spending time underwater with my river otter family for the holidays, but I love sliding on the ice in winter so if the conditions are right soon, I would enjoy going ice skating at the Hopkins Park ice rink. I also love playing and frolicking in the snow, so you’ll see me out in the parks this winter. We are considered expert winter survivalists. I have a double layer of fur, a dense undercoat for warmth and a waterproof outer layer.

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.