Who We Are

The ParkLands Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1967 to protect, restore, and manage natural lands in the Mackinaw River watershed of Central Illinois—primarily in McLean and Woodford counties.  Our long-term goal is to create a network of conservation lands corridors along the Mackinaw River and its tributaries.  These lands are dedicated primarily for preserving the biological diversity of the native plants and wildlife, and secondarily for passive public recreation, environmental education, and scientific research.

History of ParkLands Foundation

ParkLands Foundation is the 4th oldest conservation land trust in Illinois.  Over the years, ParkLands has protected and ecologically restored (through fee simple ownership, conservation easement, or intermediary conservation buyer) more than 3,600 acres of prairie, savanna, floodplain forest, and river habitat.  We currently own 21 preserves and hold 5 conservation easements, with roughly half of the protected acreage in Woodford, half in McLean, and a smaller portion in Tazewell counties.

This includes two Illinois Nature Preserve Commission (INPC) designated Illinois Nature Preserves that we own (Ridgetop NP, Merwin NP) and one that we manage in conjunction with our owned adjacent buffer strip (Weston Cemetery NP).  Two more of our preserves are INPC-designated Illinois Land and Water Reserves (Savanna L&WR, Letcher L&WR), and we are in the process of dedicating two additional owned preserves within this program (Lexington, Sweeney Woods).

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In 2008, The Nature Conservancy transferred 763 acres of natural land (e.g., the Chinquapin Bluffs Preserve) to us based on their confidence in our stewardship abilities. Together these lands protect state-threatened species along with other IDNR Species in Greatest Need of Conservation.  Over the years we have also owned and established three nature preserves in other parts of the region that have since been transferred to other conservation organizations—most notably the ParkLands Nature Preserve in Tazewell County which is now owned and managed by IDNR.

Much of the Mackinaw River that we protect is listed as being in the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory due to its high quality. In our restoration, we use native seed of local ecotypes (to the extent possible) for high diversity native plantings. We have an active prescribed fire program following rigorous standards. Biologists guide our restoration plans that follow pre-settlement vegetation history to the extent possible. Biologists also help us do biotic surveys so that our management practices are compatible with, and help, sensitive biota.

Education and Recreation

While the protection promotion of resident flora and fauna is our highest priority, ParkLand preserves offer many recreational opportunities for members and the public, that includes hiking, wildlife observation and birding, photography, and canoeing—to name just a few.  The Foundation also provides many educational opportunities for the community including family days, informational programs and tours, and collaboration with local university research.

Board of Directors & Staff

The organization is led by a committed and talented all-volunteer Board of Directors, and a small, but very dedicated paid staff comprised of our Administrative Director, Land Steward, and Outreach Coordinator.  During the summer we hire part-time student interns. Additionally, we have many dedicated volunteers that are critical to the success of our organization.

Board of Directors
Frank Sanders


Shannon Fulton

 Vice President 

Jim Franks


Michael McKinley


Eric Smith

Real Property Chair

Michael Doherty


Katy Everett


Dee Frautschi


Vasudha Gadhiraju


Douglas Kaufman-Dickson


Keith Pluymers 


Tracy Shepard


Bill Snyder


Paul Van Ness


Roger Anderson

Honorary Director

Guy Fraker 

Honorary Director

Dale Birkenholz (deceased)

Honorary Director

Erin Herbez

Director of Development and Administration 

Jason Shoemaker

Land Steward

Jill Wallace

Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator


Many visitors to our preserves come to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature, or to observe wildlife in a native surrounding. Even when they are leashed, dogs disrupt native wildlife habitats and patterns. Many wild animals are sensitive to the very presence of dogs in their environment. 

Many people are afraid of dogs, especially children. Your dog may be the friendliest animal on the face of the earth, but other people don’t know that.

Click here for more information on our no dogs policy

Many of our native plants are dwindling in number as human activity diminishes or destroys their environments. The prairies are a good example; they used to cover millions of acres in the midwest, but now there are only a few areas where they can be seen. Accordingly, many of the plants that grew in them are now rare in the wild. Picking native wildflowers and other plants only hastens their demise. 

Prior to 1830, when central Illinois was tall grass prairie and savanna, fire was a natural part the ecosystem. Fires set by lightning and Native Americans kept the prairies from becoming brushlands and forests. 

Fire benefits native plant growth by burning off dead accumulated plant material. Fire kills the above ground parts of shrubs and small trees. Prairie plants grow more vigorously when built-up plant materials and shade are removed.

Prescribed burning is carefully planned and controlled to manage natural areas such as prairie, oak savanna, and oak woodlands. It is conducted only under safe conditions. If you wish to assist ParkLands Foundation on a prescribed burn, contact our Land Steward for more information.

If ParkLands did not exist, the preserves where you are hiking today would not exist. They would almost certainly have been developed and dotted with private homes by now. 

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that every citizen has access to the simple pleasure of walking in the woods, watching birds and mammals, seeing wildflowers in season, taking photographs and learning about our natural heritage. A key to ParkLands progress is a broad base of support through dues-paying members and a strong active membership is essential for our continued success. If you and your family wish to continue to see it succeed, we encourage you to become members of ParkLands Foundation.

The hat shape of the logo characterizes the outline of the Mackinaw River watershed, which drains ~730,000 acres of land in Central Illinois.  The colored stripes represent layers of our environment; the base brown color for soil, green for plants, blue for water, and red for wildlife.