Jay Womack’s life has been devoted to nature, environmental education and conservation. In recognition of this devotion, he has been named the 2019 Outstanding Citizen Volunteer of the Year by the Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD).
The award, to be presented at the IAPD’s annual Best of the Best Awards Gala on Friday, Nov. 1, at the Chevy Chase Country Club in Wheeling, recognizes citizens' volunteer efforts to enhance a park district, forest preserve, conservation, recreation or special recreation agency program, service, parkland, open space or facility. The Geneva Park District and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County both nominated Womack for the award.
In nominating Womack, a career landscape architect and chair of the City's Natural Resources Committee, the Geneva Park District and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County detailed his extensive contributions to their organizations.
As a volunteer with the Geneva Park District, Womack co-chairs the annual Wine, Cheese & Trees Fundraiser that raises money for tree planting and other environmental projects for the City and Geneva Park District Foundation. He also co-chairs the Foundation’s annual Autumn Fair event that attracts thousands of people to Peck Farm Park, and raises money for special Park District projects, such as the Hawk’s Hollow Nature Playground. Womack coordinated the collaboration between the Geneva Park District and the City's Natural Resource Committee to hold an annual Earth Day Celebration. Since 2007, the event has brought together green vendors, local businesses and members of the community for a day of education, celebration and action on environmental issues.
“Jay has chaired three event committees at the Geneva Park District that have raised over $50,000 in sponsorships and donations, and attracted over 4,000-plus participants to our facilities and parks,” said Executive Director Sheavoun Lambillotte of the Geneva Park District. “His sustained enthusiasm and pride of place are the palpable qualities that continue to draw new and repeat volunteers to perform thousands of hours of labor throughout the year. His efforts continue to generously support and fund projects and collaborations he champions.”
As a Volunteer Steward at Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva, Womack regularly hosts restoration workdays at the preserve. He partners with local businesses, scout groups and schools to regularly draw 40 or more people to help improve the forest. Restoration is done in concert with the Forest Preserve District’s Natural Resource Management staff. District staffers share the management plan for the preserve, and Womack and his team of dedicated volunteers take it from there.
“Formerly, acres of this property were degraded — essentially an impassable thicket of non-native Buckthorn and Honeysuckle. Now, you’ll see the incredible oak/hickory woodland, with dappled sunlight reaching the forest floor for wildflowers and other native plants, as well as providing a healthier habitat for wildlife. The impact is stunning,” said Forest Preserve District Executive Director Monica Meyers. “Over 40 acres of the preserve have been improved, since he began the effort.”
In order to extend his volunteer outreach to the next generation of nature lovers, Womack also created the “Battle of the Brush Piles” event, a competition between local high schools to build the biggest pile. Last year, five schools and almost 150 students and adults participated in the event at Fabyan Forest Preserve.
Finally, Womack and the City's Natural Resources Committee has been instrumental in coordinating the efforts of numerous organizations to help reforest Geneva after it lost 2,800 trees to the Emerald Ash Borer. More than 300 trees have been purchased and planted to date.
Over the last decade, in addition to his work with the Geneva Park District and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, Womack has also volunteered his time and expertise to the Kane/DuPage Soil and Water Conservation District, The Conservation Foundation’s Kane County Advisory Committee, Tree Hab USA, Rain Barrels on Parade Campaign, Friends of the Chicago River, Chicago Wilderness, and the Morton Arboretum.
“Jay’s tireless dedication to nature, environmental education and conservation prove why he deserves this award. Womack is a force of nature – literally!” said Lambillotte.
Source: Geneva Park District & Forest Preserve District Of Kane County News Release