What’s in a Name? At Ryerson Woods Org, Plenty

Ryerson Woods in Deerfield, Illinois, has earned its reputation as one of the region’s most unique and important conservation areas, with many thanks for its continued success owed to the support of our partner group, the Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods.

What’s that you say—what happened to the “friends”? Yes, you probably know the organization under its former name, Friends of Ryerson Woods, which began as a small, volunteer-based organization in 1984. In celebration of its upcoming 30th year anniversary, the nonprof decided to take the plunge and update its name to something it deemed more fitting.

We caught up with executive director Sophie Twichell for a little intel on that and more:

EcoMyths: What’s the inspiration behind the new name?

Sophie Twichell: Well, we’ve come a long way since 1984. In that time, our mission has shifted from serving as site support for the Lake County Forest Preserve District in its preservation work here, to instead serving as a regional leader in connecting art, nature, and people. Our old name simply did not convey this now long-standing mission. The name Brushwood comes from our main center, which served as the Ryerson family’s summer house from the 1942 until 1972, when 279 acres of the Ryerson Conservation Area were dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve. It is in and around this beautiful building that our mission to nurture art, nature, and discovery has really come alive.

EM: How do you fulfill the mission?

ST: We help connect people and nature by offering innovative arts and education programs, with multiple points of entry for people of all ages. Conservation, science, and art leaders present our public programs, covering natural history and environmental topics, with a particular emphasis on the intersection of art and nature. All of this we present against a backdrop of woods where pre-settlement flora and fauna still linger.

EM: What is the importance of pre-settlement flora and fauna?

It goes back to the origins of Ryerson Woods, where European settlement began in 1834. When Edward L. Ryerson bought this land from the grandson-in-law of the first permanent settler in Lake County, his goal was to preserve its pre-settlement conditions for future generations.

An important result is that we have incredible biodiversity here, including one of the finest deciduous hardwood forests in the Chicago Region, which contains a wet floodplain forest of ash, silver maple and hackberry; a mesic sugar maple forest on the better-drained terrace soils; a dry-mesic upland forest of oaks and hickories; and a wet upland flatwoods forest containing swamp white oak and wet meadows. It is an important wildlife habitat, with plenty of birds, deer, raccoons, opossums, and woodchucks as well as foxes, skunks, beaver, muskrats, and coyotes all making their home here.

Speaking of creative
“Bird Girl” aka Allison Saum welcomed guests to the 30th annual Smith Nature Symposium, wearing an original dress designed by Brushwood Center’s Julia Kemerer. (Adriana McClintock)

EM: Does the new name spell other new changes at Brushwood?

While the woods provide a consistent backdrop of stunning beauty, our work and programs are perpetually evolving. This is how we stay relevant. We will continue testing new and creative ways of engaging our region’s residents with the incredible natural areas here, be it through guided bilingual nature hikes or through the launch of the first StoryTrail in the state, a wonderful program that creatively links nature, physical fitness, and literacy.

But, one thing remains constant: our focus on linking people with the benefits nature provides. We have a terrific roster of exciting upcoming art exhibitions, panel discussions, art workshops, book discussions, film screenings, nature talks, and much more. For upcoming program information, please visit our program calendar.