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Will County forest district, ecologist honored for trailblazing projects

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Will County forest district, ecologist honored for trailblazing projects

Forest Preserve District of Will County officials accept two awards from the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials at a conference on May 15 in Georgia: Andrew Hawkins, director of conservation. from left; Becky Blankenship, wildlife ecologist; Ralph Schultz, executive director; and Tracy Chapman, deputy director.

The Forest Preserve District of Will County has received two awards from the National Association of County Park and Recreational Officials.

Wildlife ecologist Becky Blankenship of Shorewood won the Young Professional Award. The district also won an award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Parks and Recreation for the Black Road Regional Trail Connection Project, which includes pedestrian bridges over the DuPage River and Interstate 55.

The 2022 NACPRO awards were presented May 15 at the NACPRO conference in Valdosta, Ga.

Blankenship, a 2017 graduate of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, has worked for the Forest Preserve District since June 2020. She is responsible for wildlife monitoring, management and concerns in more than 23,000 acres of preserves in Will County. In her rookie year, Blankenship started a radiotelemetry tracking program to monitor the movements and habitat use of state-endangered ornate box turtles. She also worked to establish a turtle crossings along a rail line, and she uses game cameras to capture photos of wildlife in the preserves.

"Hearing the wonderful things said about me during the awards ceremony almost brought me to tears," Blankenship said in a news release. "It also gave me a moment to reflect upon how much I was able to accomplish in my initial year as the wildlife ecologist. I am so proud that my work with the county’s wildlife has been recognized not only by the forest preserve, but also by a national organization."

The Black Road Regional Trail Connection opened in November 2021 after more than 20 years of planning. The project connected the Rock Run Greenway and DuPage River trails along Black Road and provides safer passage for pedestrians and bicyclists between Joliet and Shorewood. The work was complicated and hit setbacks through the years.

“Understanding the importance of the connection remained and so did the dedication of Forest Preserve staff and the partnerships with the communities,” Colleen Novander, the forest preserve’s director of planning and land preservation, said in a news release. “It is truly an honor to be recognized and receive this award from NACPRO.”

For more information on the Forest Preserve District of Will County, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.

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