Daniel Kielson, Winnetka
Founder and President, BackYard Nature Center
Master Site Steward, Skokie Lagoons
The backyard of Daniel Kielson’s Winnetka home is a thriving ecosystem. Among the bushes and trees, squirrels play and birds flock to feeders. “Probably within a half hour, there’ll be seven or eight species of birds back here,” he says.
With a bustling backyard like this, it’s no wonder that Daniel is the founder and president of the BackYard Nature Center (BYNC), a nonprofit organization that connects children and adults in New Trier Township with nature in forest preserves and in their own backyards. “We promote the notion of developing your backyard into a healthy environment,” he says.
A Rochester, N.Y. native, Daniel grew up walking to school near a park and became very comfortable with nature at an early age. Daniel now owns his own leadership consultant company, Visions Unlimited, and his flexible hours allowed him to reconnect with nature, starting about a dozen years ago at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center in DuPage County. “That gave me an appreciation of native animals and birds,” Daniel said.
What really motivated Daniel to action, however, was when he was on a bike path at the Skokie Lagoons six year ago, and found it littered with garbage. He knew he had to do something about it. Daniel got in touch Skokie Lagoons’ Master Site Steward Jerry Garden, and started volunteering to help care for the preserve.
About 18 months ago, Garden moved to Alaska and encouraged Daniel to be the new master steward, a volunteer position he now co-manages with David Kosnik. As master steward, Daniel’s job entails managing volunteers and keeping the lagoons free of buckthorn trees—which are bad for its ecosystem—and litter.
But Daniel took his passion for nature one step further; in 2007, he founded BYNC. The organization helps student and adults reconnect with nature through forest preserve excursions, which are often at the lagoons, and presentations in the community.
In his free time, Daniel loves to be outdoors canoeing, camping and enjoying his own backyard with his wife, Marie-Eve. Working at both the lagoons and at BYNC, in tandem, truly helps Daniel’s ultimate goal. “I want to promote the benefits and also the importance of the environment and associating with nature,” he says.