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

Good Natured: Kane County Certified Naturalist Program

Pam Otto, Outreach Ambassador for St. Charles Park District 10/31/2023 6:00AM

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.

Specific dates and topic for this year's core classes, which will be held from 6:30-8pm at Hickory Knolls in St. Charles are:

  • January 11 – Ecology and Insects
  • January 18 – Geology and Soils
  • January 25 – Woodlands and Mammals
  • February 1 – Wetlands and Herps
  • February 8 – Prairies and Birds
  • February 15 – Watersheds and Groundwater and Aquatic Systems

    And for field trips:
  • April 13 – Geology at Hickory Knolls
  • May 4 – Woodlands at Johnson's Mound FP
  • May 18 – Wetlands at Island Park, Geneva
  • June 22 – Prairies at Dick Young FP

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:  the Geneva Park District, the Forest Preserve District of Kane County and the 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 7pm on Thursday November 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. on Friday November 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 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—and nature enthusiasts--are waiting for you!

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

Tags: Around Town Community Community Involvement Environment Families Education Kane Government Why Kane Tourism
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