Member Biography

Elizabeth Kessler

Elizabeth is an accomplished professional with more than 32 years in the field, a certified park and recreation professional/executive for nearly three decades, and has been employed as the Executive Director of the McHenry County Conservation District since 2006. In this role she is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the District, which includes preserving and protecting more than 25,500+ acres of open space in McHenry County, IL.

During her tenure she and the District’s team have worked diligently to ensure the long-term viability of the County’s natural resources by providing residents the opportunity to enjoy and gain an appreciation of the natural world, experience an array of outdoor recreational amenities and to enrich their lives with an abundance of environmental education and volunteer experiences. With the successful voter approved 2007 referendum, the District issued $73 million dollars of general obligation bonds which were used to acquire and protect an additional 4,309 acres of open space, provide public access and amenities to 12 new sites and 3.5 miles of regional trails. The District opened a state-of-the-art Lost Valley Visitor Center in 2010, the first US Green Building Council LEED certified (Gold Level) public building in McHenry County demonstrating the District’s commitment to environmental stewardship.

Accomplishments of national significance during her professional career include the District receiving the 2013 NRPA Barb King Environmental Stewardship Award for achieving excellence in environmental stewardship and serving on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Environmental Assessment Study Team to bring the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, a project of President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to the Chicago, Illinois/Milwaukee, Wisconsin metropolitan areas. Elizabeth was one of 500 guests invited to attend the White House Conference on April 16, 2010. The project received the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Partners In Conservation Award from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in October 2012 and was formally established as the 557th refuge (11,200 acres envisioned) on November 6, 2012. Prior to her position at the McHenry County Conservation District, she was employed at the Skokie Park District for 19 years in various roles and served as the Superintendent of Recreation for 12 years during which time the District was nationally recognized with the highly coveted Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Administration as well as becoming an Illinois Distinguished Agency.

Elizabeth currently serves as Chair of Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance of more than 250 federal, state and local government organizations, non-profits and corporations working together to protect land, water and wildlife in the Chicago Wilderness region (Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan). She served as the Chair of the Task Force that created the Excellence in Ecological Restoration Site Accreditation Program derived from the Biodiversity Recovery Plan (the blueprint for saving and restoring the rare natural communities). Elizabeth also produces and hosts a monthly radio talk show called “Wide Open Spaces” on Huntley Community Radio 101.5 FM / which features the District, its activities and conservation/environmental issues in the region.

Elizabeth was inducted into the Academy of Park and Recreation Administration in 2006 and is a past member of the Board of Directors. She is a member of the Illinois Association of Conservation and Forest Preserve Districts and is a past Board Member of the AIPE/American Academy Foundation. She is a Past President of the National Recreation and Park Association (2010), Past Chair of the Board of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (2003), and currently serves as an Advisor to the McHenry County Conservation Foundation.

Elizabeth holds both a Bachelor of Science Degree in Recreation and Park Administration with honors from Illinois State University and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration with distinction from Keller Graduate School of Management.

Throughout her career, Elizabeth has received numerous personal and professional awards, has presented at national, regional and state conferences and has authored a diverse array of articles. Most recently, Elizabeth was honored as McHenry County’s 2017 Women of Distinction by the Northwest Herald and McHenry County Living Magazine.

In her spare time, the ‘call of the wild’ and desire to make the world a better place has Elizabeth restoring prairie, an 1850’s farm house and turn-of-the-century dairy barn on 16-acres at “Dance Up the Sun” farm in Harvard, Ill.; paddling into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota; setting out on safari in Uganda to observe wildlife at several national parks, including hiking into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to habituate with the endangered mountain gorillas; and promoting humanitarian efforts in Kawuku, Uganda by creating SSUBI Community Wellness Center NGO with her husband Ken and sons, Chris and Andy. SSUBI means “hope” in Lugandan and our organization's mission is to improve access to essential medical, educational and social service programs for members of Kawuku and the surrounding areas.