The Stories Behind Forrest King-Cortes’s Landmarks: Uncovering Their Significance


current position is the national director of community-centered conservation for the Land Trust Alliance, a distinguished nonprofit that unites over wildlife preservation organizations nationwide in order to enhance their capacities and bring about fair and impactful transformations. Having pursued a degree in wildlife ecology and management at Auburn University, my fascination with this field was cultivated by the nurturing environment provided by Chicago’s parks and green areas. While my husband and I have recently relocated to Birmingham, Alabama, our eventual plan entails returning to Chicago in due course. I take great pride in my roots, as I was both born and raised in this illustrious city.

My parents were born and raised in Chicago, hailing from immigrant families. My mother’s lineage can be traced back to European descent, with a blend of German and Italian ancestry, residing in Chicago for numerous generations. On the other hand, my father’s family originates from Michoacán, Mexico. Although my grandparents arrived in this country relatively recently in the larger scheme of time, they have developed unwavering loyalty to the city of Chicago. As for my personal journey into conservation, it commenced at a young age in close proximity; particularly, one of my cherished spots in Chicago is the North Park Village Nature Center, located on the northwestern outskirts of the city.

Accompanied by my parents, I embarked on numerous expeditions to traverse those exquisite trails. Additionally, I partook in attending a summer camp nestled in that very locale and devoted my after-school hours to the noble cause of enhancing the habitat. Consequently, my educational journey led me to Auburn University situated in Birmingham, Alabama, where I diligently pursued wildlife ecology and management studies. Post-graduation, fate brought me serendipitously to an esteemed animal shelter, wherein I undertook the significant role of community engagement and outreach. Upon returning to Chicago, I engaged in various fellowships and internships at Lincoln Park Zoo, predominantly focusing on community outreach and urban conservation efforts such as safeguarding city habitats. This enriching experience eventually propelled me towards assuming the prestigious position of stewardship program manager with the esteemed Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy and the Chicago Park District noticed a discrepancy between the green spaces and the local communities in certain areas. As part of my role in the Ark District, I have been dedicated to preserving the city’s habitat for the benefit of individuals, wildlife, and vegetation. This undertaking has required me to work extensively throughout various parts of the city, collaborating with volunteers, educational institutions, collectives, and affiliated organizations. These alliances span from entities exclusively serving individuals with disabilities to after-school programs and senior initiatives, all united by a common goal of enhancing the communities they serve.

It was evident to them that there was a requirement for staff members who were exclusively assigned to the task and deliberate endeavors to facilitate individuals in establishing connections that were both comfortable and pleasurable for them. A substantial portion of our efforts centered around encouraging families’ presence in the area through arranging cultural events and art workshops, as well as involving individuals in maintaining the spaces. Allow me to emphasize this point: Those interpersonal bonds already existed. People were enthusiastic about being present in the area, however, in certain instances, they had never received explicit invitations or felt genuinely embraced. Our communities possess an array of diverse and unique relationships with nature.

There exists a mutual collaboration between environmental groups and various other entities in this field. Queer communities and communities of color particularly hold significant bonds with nature, where the paramount objective is to foster a sense of security and inclusivity to facilitate the growth of such connections. Frequently, upon encountering terms such as nature in cities, nature in Chicago, the outdoors and queer communities, or the outdoors and Brown communities, individuals perceive them to be incongruous. However, throughout my extensive experience in this field, I have discovered that there is no discrepancy; rather, these elements coexist harmoniously.

In Summary

In conclusion, our efforts to nurture the sense of community in our area have been fruitful and deeply rewarding. By fostering meaningful connections and actively involving families and individuals in cultural events and art workshops, we have witnessed the transformation of a passive presence into an enthusiastic and engaged community. It was evident that the interpersonal bonds already existed, but by extending explicit invitations and genuinely embracing everyone, we have created a welcoming space where people feel a strong sense of belonging. Our experience has taught us that our communities have diverse and unique relationships with nature, which we will continue to celebrate and nurture in our ongoing endeavors.


Hakan Author

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