A Passion That Keeps Growing
In 1995, Todd Tucker was just a young intern at Byron Forest Preserve District (BFPD). But, he showed promise. So, after his six-month internship ended, he was hired on as a full-time naturalist. As he continued to climb the ranks, he learned how to educate others about the surrounding natural area while also working to restore it.
Today, Tucker is the executive director, a role he’s held for 13 years. “I’m not in this field for the money, and none of us are,” he says. “We’re very dedicated and hardworking employees who believe in the environment and the preservation of land and animals in this area.”
A native of Franklin Grove, Ill., Tucker knew from a young age he wanted to work outdoors, especially since he was exposed to nature through his work with Future Farmers of America while in high school. “I originally went to school thinking I’d be a banker, but I thought if I had to wear a suit all day, I’d hate myself,” he says. Under Tucker’s leadership, BFPD has grown tremendously.
Before he took over as executive director, the preserve only had 700 acres of land. Today, BPFD has acquired roughly 2,500 acres.
One project Tucker is proud of is the Bald Hill Prairie Preserve in Mt. Morris, Ill. After receiving a $444,000 grant in 2017, BPFD acquired that land. It now has 380 acres, as well as the largest tree in the state – a giant cottonwood that’s 28.5 feet in circumference and stands 122 feet tall.
“It’s a neat property in the corner of our area,” he says. “We only have one-tenth of one percent of original prairie in Illinois, so those plant species are very important.”
BFPD has also taken home some serious hardware under Tucker’s leadership. The preserve received an award in 2017 from the American Association for State and Local History, recognizing BFPD’s Jarrett Prairie Museum. “One hundred years ago, forest preserves just bought a piece of land and it sat there,” Tucker says. “Today, we have museums, observatories, preschools and lots of programming.”
Tucker admits he has bad days at work, just like everyone does. But, he never wakes up dreading it. “I believe in what I do, and I enjoy it,” he says. “More importantly, the people I work with are just as passionate about this preserve as I am.”