A small group of people huddle with their faces close to the ground, diligently using field guides in an attempt to identify a species of alpine wildflower. The botanist instructor assists with subtle hints and suggestions. The backdrop is the soaring peaks of the Grand Tetons.
Nearby in Yellowstone National Park, another group threads its way single file through a back-county geiser basin. Their guide, a geologist, speaks of the marvels and intricacies of the unique thermal features.
Natural history photography is just one of a number of courses to be offered by IWIN.
Rising from still water carpeted with several species of duckweed, ancient cypress trees stand as silent sentinels. Frogs leap from floating logs, Prothonotary Warblers flit overhead while a black rat snake makes its way slowly down a massive cypress. The group is spread out along the boardwalk, observing, writing, photographing, and slowly unravelling the ecology of this unique area.
Do any of these scenarios sound interesting? The first two are long-standing courses offered to the general public at institutes housed at two of the most charismatic national parks; the third is based, believe it or not, in Illinois and will be one of the courses offered by a new program of the Illinois Natural History Survey and the University of Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES). Called the Illinois Wilds Institute for Nature (IWIN), the newly formed organization will offer classes on a variety of topics associated with Illinois ecology, natural history, and natural resources. Occasional course offerings may venture from the state's boundaries, but the main focus will be Illinois. IWIN began its official operation on February 1, 2000, and its first course offerings will be in spring/summer, 2000.
General Information on IWIN
IWIN will be similar in structure to the outreach programs offered by the Yellowstone, Teton, and Great Smoky Mountain Institutes. Natural History Survey biologists and NRES faculty will offer short courses for the general public, teachers, professional individuals, and students of all ages. Each course will have an associated fee that covers the cost of materials, lodging and meals (for residential courses), and other expenses. For some of the courses, college credit will be an option.
Individual courses may include classroom work, field trips, field projects, or other skill-building activities. For many courses, in- or out-of-state field trips will be included. Courses will be offered in a variety of venues, including evening, 1/2 day, 1 day, 2 day, 4 day, or longer. Shorter courses will deal with a specific topic (e.g., butterflies), while longer courses may take an integrated approach to a topic or issue (e.g., Ecology of Southern Illinois). Longer courses may be residential at sites in Champaign, across the state (e.g., Dixon Springs Agricultural Experiment Station), or at selected out-of-state sites.
Separate offerings of IWIN courses will be targeted toward (but not limited to) teachers, students, resource professionals, and the general public. Course offerings will occur at times when audiences are most available--evenings, summer, the break between Christmas and New Year, spring break, etc., or on a periodic basis throughout the year. Each year, a number of courses will be offered and will vary from year to year, depending on interest and demand.
See the Illinois Wilds Institute for Nature for more information.
Charlie Warwick, editor