Sophie Twichell, Lake Bluff

Sophie Twichell
Executive Director, Friends of Ryerson Woods
Lake Bluff

In densely populated Lake County, Ryerson Woods is an oasis of 556 acres of green, and Sophie Twichell’s job is to make sure that future generations have access to the same rolling woods for years to come.

“We want to instill the core value of protecting open space,” says Sophie. As executive director of Friends of Ryerson Woods, an organization dedicated to education and appreciation of outdoor spaces, Sophie’s mission is a little different from many on the environmental front lines.

Preserving the land was accomplished when the Ryerson family donated the woods to the Lake County Forest Preserve, but Friends’ mission is equally important. “If people aren’t connected to their open spaces, what happens when a referendum comes up to keep and preserve that space?” Sophie asks.

Lake County’s fastest growing population is Latino and Friends has partnered with Mano a Mano, a foundation dedicated to serving Hispanic and underserved families. Last summer, they organized a series of walking groups with a naturalist and interpreter to introduce the surrounding forest preserve areas to families.

“We want people to be comfortable and learn what’s happening in the woods,” says Sophie. The naturalist makes links between Illinois and their old home; pointing out that Monarch butterflies live in Mexico in the winter, but return to Illinois and need the milkweed here to reproduce. Last year, more than 30 people joined each walk and this year, the group plans to add a second partnership and a series of walks.

These pilot programs—they’re also working to adapt “Leave No Child Inside,” an initiative of Chicago Wilderness and other groups, to a Latino population—are shared with other conservation groups to spread the mission of connecting underserved populations with nature.

Friends of Ryerson also organizes large-scale education initiatives, scheduling programs and symposiums around a year-long theme. This year, the theme is green design and the group has Bill Browning, a well-known leader in that field, speaking at the symposium in May.

“If you know the name of a plant or bird, then you own it,” says Sophie. And Friends is helping people own nature, whether they call butterflies Monarchs or Mariposas Monarcas.

For more information about Friends of Ryerson Woods and the upcoming Green Design symposium, go to