Environmental educator to bring west-central Illinois nature to your backyard

URBANA, Ill. –Whether you’re battling invasive species on your property, starting to compost at home, or trying to reduce fertilizers on the farm, doing the right thing for the environment isn’t always clear. The University of Illinois Extension team of natural resource experts connects communities around the state with research-based resources and best practices because small changes at the local level can have a big impact on the environment.

In February, Illinois Extension welcomed Amy Lefringhouse to serve as a Natural Resources, Environment and Energy educator in Adams, Brown, Hancock, Pike, and Schuyler counties in Western Illinois. County Director Shelby Crow says this position involves a partnership with John Wood Community College.

“We are proud to serve local residents with expertise and education in specialized areas to improve the overall health of our community,” says Crow. “Residents will now have a local professional to ask questions about their own natural resource issues, to provide environmental workshops, and to serve as a resource for communities to learn how to save money through water and energy conservation.”

With community partnership being an essential part of her role, Lefringhouse will serve area college students by teaching natural resources, wildlife, and sustainable and renewable energy courses for John Wood Community College at the new Orr Multipurpose Agriculture Facility.

Construction began on the new 24,000-square-foot facility in September. It will house the University of Illinois Agricultural Research and Demonstration Center and bring agricultural research, education, and development to West Central Illinois. The facility will have offices and classrooms, an exposition space, and an animal care unit for onsite, hands-on training for students. The more than 400-acre site will have grassland and prairie plots as well as a stocked pond.

“This new facility will increase and enhance educational opportunities for ag students and community members,” Crow says. “We look forward to many more years of this incredible partnership and the potential for Illinois Extension programs this new facility provides.”

Lefringhouse is passionate about revealing local natural wonders to communities and inspiring people to further their knowledge of the natural world by serving as volunteers with the Illinois Master Naturalist program.

“West-central Illinois offers so many natural gifts to explore and University of Illinois Extension is positioned to bring environmental education to families and communities right to their ‘back yard,’ ” Lefringhouse says.

She looks forward to helping residents discover new perspectives about their natural resources, learn how to save money at home through energy-saving actions, and discover that time spent in nature can be a path to healthier living. She has plans to expand the Master Naturalist program, connect landowners with resources to manage their property sustainably, and engage college students to actively participate in the conservation management field.

“Having managed several different natural sites, I have witnessed the positive impact of conservation practices on land and water resources,” Lefringhouse says. “I look forward to learning more about the local natural resources and environmental concerns. “

Most of Lefringhouse’s career has been focused on youth environmental education. Most recently, Lefringhouse was Executive Director at Gardner Camp, a youth outdoor education facility. Lefringhouse has previously worked with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minnesota.

A native of west-central Illinois, Lefringhouse studied Environmental Science at Illinois College and has a Master of Science degree in Environmental Planning and Management from University of Illinois at Springfield.  She is a member of the Environmental Education Association of Illinois and a member of the Illinois 4-H Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access Task Force.

Lefringhouse is based in the Illinois Extension Adams County office located in Quincy. She can be reached at heberlei@illinois.edu or (217) 223-8380.

University of Illinois Extension educators and specialists connect every county in Illinois with university research through in-person and distance-learning programming and other educational outreach. They work to provide businesses, families, and agricultural producers with the practical tools and resources needed to solve problems.

WRITEREmily Steele, Media Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions.