Become a citizen scientist with new tick watch program


By Kristen Zambo
Staff writer

Posted Jul 2, 2019 at 12:59 PM in Journal Standard

ROCKFORD — More families are venturing outside to frolic in nature as the weather finally turns summery, but they could bring home more than they anticipated.

A bevy of ticks live in grassy and wooded areas throughout the Rock River Valley and wind up hitching rides on people and their pets. If ticks infected with diseases bite you, they could transmit any of a host of illnesses if not caught quickly enough and removed. A program that launched privately last year, I-TICK, or Illinois Tick Inventory Collaboration Network, opened to the public this year and residents are encouraged to help scientists survey the tick population to determine which types are in our communities and what kinds of diseases they could be carrying.

Here are five things to know about ticks and this program.

1. How does I-TICK work?

It’s what’s known as a passive surveillance program to help public health officials gather data about ticks in each county of Illinois. Phillip Alberti, extension educator with the University of Illinois Extension office in Freeport, said it launched last year with educational programming about ticks.

Public health officials would like residents throughout the state to look for and collect any ticks they find, noting precisely where those ticks were found if possible, and then send in those ticks and data. The program is a joint effort between the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine, Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois Department of Public Health and Midwest Center of Excellence.

Andrea Noble, a naturalist and educator at Severson Dells Nature Center outside of Rockford, said there are disease-carrying ticks in this region.

“I know Lyme disease is in the area,” she said.

Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks and once transmitted through bites, a person could develop a bull’s-eye-like rash on the affected body part. Symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, headaches and muscle and joint pains. It can be fatal if left untreated.

“Something to be aware of is the Lone Star tick is moving into the area because of climate change,” Noble said of the ticks typically found in southern climates. “Those are ones you really want to get into vials. They’ve been reported in the area, but are not common yet.”

Females have a white spot in the middle of their bodies and males have a black marbling pattern on their brown bodies with white streaks around the outside of their abdomens. These ticks can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, among other diseases, and an enzyme that can make victims have allergic reactions if they consume red meat.

“Even though that’s not deadly as Lyme’s disease, that perks Americans’ ears a little more,” Noble said.

3. What do you have to do?

Simply pay attention when you’re working or playing outdoors. The official monitoring must occur during a period of five days within any two-week period between now and Dec. 31. Participants then record the location where the tick was acquired during that time, if known.

“Chances are you’ll have a rough idea what county you were in,” Alberti said.

4. How do you collect the ticks?

Noble said after spending time outside, residents should strip down inside and check their bodies for ticks, which are no bigger than a pencil eraser. In the first two to three hours of exposure, the tick on your body won’t have burrowed its head into your skin, she said. Grab it with a tweezers and take it off.

If the head has burrowed in, individuals should use tweezers to grasp it as close to its head as possible and pull it out. Noble said not to burn it or try to flush it away as this might agitate the tick, which could then start biting you. If the head breaks off, “don’t panic,” she said, but you must carefully remove the head.

The bugs and location data must be submitted in special kits. Alberti said there were 42 public hubs by June 13 in Illinois where residents may go to pick up their tick kits. Kits contain sealed vials in which to plop the ticks before submitting one’s findings at a pickup and drop-off hub.

Kits also may be mailed to those locations, he said.

5. Where are the hubs?

In Stephenson and Winnebago counties, hubs are located at Severson Dells Nature Center, 8786 Montague Road; the Winnebago County Health Department, 555 N. Court St., Rockford; the Illinois Department of Natural Resources office in Lena, 8542 N. Lake Road; and the University of Illinois Extension office in Freeport at 2998 W. Pearl City Road, Building R.

Know Your Forest Preserves: Severson Dells

Photo by Jamie Johannsen

Photo by Jamie Johannsen

Source: Rockford Register Star

Posted Jun 20, 2019 at 3:08 PM

Severson Dells Forest Preserve

8786 Montague Road, Rockford, IL 61102

Severson Dells is 369-acres of woodland, stream and dolomite cliffs. Three miles of hiking trails and two-thirds of a mile of paved trail entice visitors of all ages and abilities to experience the beauty and serenity of restored prairie and woodland and the diverse birds and wildlife they support. You won’t want to miss the clear-running Hall Creek meandering through the shadows of the dramatic limestone cliffs, which give the preserve its name.

This preserve is home to the Severson Dells Nature Center (SDNC), which provides many educational programs and events for students and families. Interactive programs are offered weekly to people of all ages and interests. SDNC contains nature exhibits, a library and bookstore for the general public. Hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1-4:30 p.m. on Sunday. The professional environmental education staff at SDNC also provides school field trips at the nature center and in-school programs on a wide variety of natural science topics. Learn about Severson Dells Nature Center activities and events at or by calling 815-335-2915.

Don’t miss The Grove, a nature playscape that provides children with many opportunities to explore, climb, build and create. Local artists and sculptors constructed this innovative space to foster creative expression and outdoor exploration. Nestled among the trees, The Grove is built primarily of natural materials that provide children with free play opportunities to climb, build, hide, perform and make music. The Grove is the only recreational facility of its kind in the Rockford area.

Acres: 369

Restrooms: Yes

Picnic tables: 28

Shelterhouses: 1

Prairie Knoll: Wood shelter, 200 people maximum, 25 tables, 150 seats, no electricity, 1 large grill.

Shelterhouse may be reserved on-line at

Playground equipment: outdoor nature playscape

Horseback trails: 0

Hiking trails (miles): 3.0

Illinois Nature Preserve: Yes

Special facilities: Nature Study Center, The Grove outdoor nature playscape, paved loop trail

(Dogs are not allowed at Severson Dells Forest Preserve)

Learn more at

Preserve Puzzler: Which forest preserve contains Winnebago County’s only calcareous seep, a wet prairie natural community which many unusual plants?

Find the answer here in next week’s edition of Know Your Preserves.

Executive Editor’s View: Edit board gets a dose of nature at Severson Dells

Source: Rockford Register Star

By Mark Baldwin 
Executive editor 
Posted Jun 15, 2019 at 9:00 AM

People here love their green spaces and all they represent — the opportunity to engage with nature, the prospect of relaxation, a non-anxious gathering place, a chance to relate one-on-one with animals.

That was the overarching message received by the Editorial Board last week during a public meeting at Severson Dells Nature Center. We take the board on the road every month or so to learn what’s on residents’ minds, meet knew people and get to know corners of the community that we don’t typically visit.

Without fail, we learn something we didn’t know, and the session at Severson Dells didn’t disappoint.

One principal takeaway was the vital role played by Severson Dells and, more generally, the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County in exposing youngsters to nature — kids whose everyday lives often are circumscribed by concrete.

“One of the most extraordinary things is to be out with kids from the city on a night hike,” one man said. “Every sound is magnified.” Night hikes, which often draw 60 or more people, are one of the most common ways county residents are introduced to Severson Dells.

The relationship with children is central to Severson Dells’ mission. Each year, 4,000 students visit the Dells through school programs.

Many of the two dozen participants in last week’s meeting spoke highly of the inclusive quality of the forest preserves, which serve everyone from birders to kayakers to music buffs.

Yet Severson Dells, one of more than 40 forest preserves in the county, faces challenges, too. For one thing, not everyone has access to the forest preserves.

“Visitors aren’t representative of the demographics of our community,” said Ann Wasser, the director of education and research at Severson Dells. “Across the system, the only programs that come close are the school field trips.”

One barrier is fear: If most of your knowledge of the outdoors is acquired atop slabs of concrete, the idea of a visit to the “forest” can be daunting.

A larger challenge is transportation — a concern that has surfaced at every public Editorial Board meeting since we started them four years ago.

A large proportion of Winnebago County residents, many of whom live in Rockford, simply can’t get to the county’s green spaces — just as they struggle to get to grocery stores, jobs and educational opportunities. One potential solution suggested during last week’s meeting: partnering with existing community centers to establish nature education programs in Rockford neighborhoods.

There’s mounting evidence that climate change poses a threat to Severson Dells and other natural areas.

For instance, white pines, which were native to the region, are mostly gone, with few left in Winnebago County. Birds like the white pelican are moving north. And tick species that are native to Texas are now showing up here. (One insect, the Lone Star tick, carries a disease that can make you allergic to red meat.)

One task of the staff and volunteers at Severson Dells, Wasser said, is to record the effects of a changing climate. They do “a lot of documenting of what species are where,” she said. Particular attention is paid to “relict species” — native plants, for instance, that don’t have the ability to move.

A final takeaway from Severson Dells: Our community is fortunate to have landed Wasser, who just won the Association of Nature Center Administrators’ 2019 Outstanding New Leader Award. She’s a California native whose enthusiasm for her work is contagious and whose propensity for collaboration ought to be the model for leaders of all our public institutions.

If your neighborhood association or other group wants to host a public meeting of the Editorial Board, let us know. We’re always happy to show up.

Mark Baldwin is executive editor of the Rockford Register Star. His email address is

RPS 205 VIBE: Expanded science curriculum gets students set for summer

Source: Rockford Register Star, June 7, 2019

By Mary Kaull / Rockford Public Schools

Posted Jun 7, 2019 at 6:07 PM

Thousands of Rockford Public Schools students will head into summer with skills to learn about the natural world around them.

They have developed these skills thanks to an expanded science curriculum at RPS 205 and a deeper partnership with Severson Dells Nature Center. Each year, about 3,700 school-aged children visit Severson Dells for field trips, according to Ann Wasser, director of education and research for the nature center. About 70% – or nearly 2,600 students – are from Rockford Public Schools.

What they learn at Severson Dells reinforces the inquiry-based learning skills in the Next Generation Science Standards and K-12 science education at RPS 205.

At Severson Dells, Wasser and her staff began overhauling its curriculum for field trips last spring, emphasizing the scientific method – doing observations, making hypotheses and collecting evidence. For example, students might survey plant and bird species in the field and discuss how the numbers have changed over time and why. They might identify invasive species, such as honeysuckle, buckthorn or multiflora rose, and discuss how a diet heavy in these plants might impact animals.

For the last few years, RPS 205 has been on the same path, preparing students at all levels to think like scientists. It’s an inquiry-based approach to learning that challenges students to explain an idea or concept, using sets of data and their content knowledge.

High school students in RPS 205 must now take three years of science rather than two, which is one more year than the state mandate. A new required course sequence in high school covers content aligned to the national science standards, assuring all students will graduate with a foundation in the principles of biology, chemistry and physics.

But it’s about more than learning from a textbook, says David R. Allen, dean of science for the district. Experience outdoors – like students get at Severson Dells – offers a perspective that’s irreplaceable. It’s hard to convey the real world in classroom lessons about biodiversity and pollution, Allen said. Being at a place like Severson Dells allows students to learn science by doing science. Students learn to think critically about how some of the choices humans make impact animal habitats.

“If you wait until sixth grade to talk about some of these things, it’s too late,” Allen said.

Students can read about invasive plant species, but they can see their impact at Severson Dells. “We have boatloads of honeysuckle, which no matter how hard we combat it, will never fully disappear,” Wasser said. They can also see relic plant species, such as the Canada yew, which are slowly disappearing from the area.

“This is real stuff,” Allen said. “Kids don’t see that stuff enough, and we won’t get that across from their textbooks.”

Severson Dells Nature Center Director Receives Award

Source: Rockford Register Star, June 7, 2019

Ann Wasser, Director of Severson Dells Nature Center. Photo by Jessie Crow Mermel

Ann Wasser, Director of Severson Dells Nature Center. Photo by Jessie Crow Mermel

ROCKFORD — The Severson Dells Nature Center recently announced that Director Ann Wasser will receive the 2019 Outstanding New Director Award from the Association of Nature Center Administrators.

Wasser will receive the award in August at the Association’s annual conference in Cincinnati.

Wasser joined Severson Dells Nature Center in December of 2016 and has since updated school programs to more strongly align to state education standards, diversify funding sources for the organization and worked to create community partnerships like 815 Outside.

For information:

23 WIFR: Volunteers remove invasive plants at Severson Dells to celebrate Earth Day

Posted: Mon 7:10 AM, Apr 22, 2019

Updated: Mon 7:00 PM, Apr 22, 2019

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) Volunteers spent Earth Days at Severson Dells removing invasive plants, mostly honeysuckle, to make space for native plants.

Nearly 27 people volunteered to clean up the area. Leaders say the idea was to get habitat as close to native as possible.

Severson Dells is a 369 acre forest preserve in south western Winnnebago County with the mission to link people to nature through education and research

To see the original article, click here.


815 Outside encourages locals to connect with outdoors

Source: WIFR

Posted: Fri 5:15 PM, Apr 26, 2019

ROCKFORD — Put away the laptop, ditch the smartphone and reconnect with nature.

That’s the thrust behind a countywide initiative called 815 Outside, an alliance of nonprofit and public service organizations promoting opportunities to connect with green spaces and experience nature for enhanced quality of life.

The initiative was launched during a news conference Friday at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve in southeast Winnebago County.

“The two big reasons for establishing 815 Outside are to promote healthy living in our community and to promote the positive community economic development that can come with the large amounts of natural areas that we have,” Severson Dells Nature Center Director Ann Wasser said.

Winnebago County ranks among the unhealthiest counties in the state, Wasser said, based on a wide range of indicators such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

815 Outside touts benefits of connecting with nature in Winnebago County

Source: Rockford Register Star

By Ken DeCoster 
Staff writer 

Posted Apr 26, 2019 at 3:50 PM

ROCKFORD — Put away the laptop, ditch the smartphone and reconnect with nature.

That’s the thrust behind a countywide initiative called 815 Outside, an alliance of nonprofit and public service organizations promoting opportunities to connect with green spaces and experience nature for enhanced quality of life.

The initiative was launched during a news conference Friday at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve in southeast Winnebago County.

“The two big reasons for establishing 815 Outside are to promote healthy living in our community and to promote the positive community economic development that can come with the large amounts of natural areas that we have,” Severson Dells Nature Center Director Ann Wasser said.

Winnebago County ranks among the unhealthiest counties in the state, Wasser said, based on a wide range of indicators such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Rochelle News-Leader: Huntley named president of Severson Dells

POSTED: Jan 30, 2019

dan huntley.jpg

ROCKFORD – Daniel A. Huntley, an attorney with WilliamsMcCarthy LLP, a full-service law firm, and a resident of Ogle County, was recently appointed president of the Severson Dells Nature Center board of directors.
Since its inception, the non-profit organization has connected people to nature through education and research. Huntley has served on the board of directors since 2015, most recently as vice president. 
“I am honored to have been elected president of Severson Dells,” said Huntley. “I have had the privilege of working alongside an amazing group of volunteers and staff to further engage the next generation of nature enthusiasts. I look forward to helping Severson Dells continue to grow and develop this next year.”
Huntley is an associate attorney with WilliamsMcCarthy LLP and concentrates his practice in corporate law, real estate law, estate and trust law and agribusiness law.

To view the original article, click here.

13 WREX: Severson Dells Nature Center receives $25,000 grant

POSTED: 11:36 AM January 30, 2019

WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) — The Severson Dells Nature Center has received a $25,000 grant for Science Education for Northern Illinois.

The nature center provides nature education for all ages. The grant money will go towards supporting field trips for pre-k through 5th grade students. The nature center says the goals of the field trips are to provide students with a positive experience in nature, to increase their understanding of basic ecology and help them feel more comfortable in nature.

“School programs at Severson Dells engage kids in hands-on, minds-on nature education so they can learn more about their local environment,” says Ann Wasser, Director of Severson Dells Nature Center. “Many of the students that come to Severson Dells have never spent time in the woods before and are scared of what might be out there. If the students time at Severson Dells can educate them about nature and decrease their fears about nature, then we have done our job.”

The grant was awarded by the Meryle A. Stockhus Fund of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois’
Community Grants Program.

To see the original article, click here.

17 WTVO: Education Matters Severson Dells

By Mimi Murphy

Posted: Jun 15, 2016 10:35 PM CDT

ROCKFORD - Connecting people to nature through education, that's the goal of Severson Dells Nature Center.  To accomplish its mission, the center offers many family programs on land and on water.

Abundant green woods, scenic rivers and streams, it's all part of Winnebago County's 42 forest preserves covering some 10,000 acres.  And, it's all right there for the public to enjoy.

"We love to get people outside and as you know, that's not happening as much as it used to," said Don Miller, Director of Education at the center.  "And, I think there's a real connect that's needed for the human psyche to be outside and to learn. Kids know more video game characters than they do  birds and plants. And we try to reverse that trend."

One way to do that is to get people out paddling.  Severson Dells offers canoe trips for adults and families.  Before getting on the water, participants must attend a 20 minute quick start program taught by Severson Dells canoe instructor Rich Toppe.

Toppe, a retired Rockford school teacher, shows how to be a confident paddler, even if you've never been in a canoe.  Before you know it, you're floating down the Kishwaukee River, listening to the sounds of nature.  You never know what you'll see and with terrific guides who can answer questions about river ecology.

Severson Dells offers river trips every Monday for people 10 years of age and up.  They provide the equipment, the guides, and a shuttle.  All you need to do is call to register by the Friday before.

To view the original article, click here.