MOROCCO — When Bri Ciara took over as director of the Newton County Soil and Water Conservation District (NCSWCD) just a little over a year ago, she hoped that the local residents wouldn't be scared by her enthusiasm.

That enthusiasm and focus on battling through her first year despite a pandemic, which added additional challenges, helped 2020 be a successful one for NCSWCD.

"It was definitely more difficult to reach people this past year because so much of what we want to do is in-person, including or workshops and events," said Ciara. "We were limited in what we could do, so we had to learn new technology to stream events live and hold virtual workshops. It was a learning curve."

However, that learning curve and limitations put into place because of COVID-19 didn't stop Ciara and NCSWCD from having a productive 2020.

In March of 2020, the district put on a pond management workshop that gathered a great turnout. In July, the district along with the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife completed a fish survey for a pond in Goodland that showed the pond needed to re-dug for it to be a lasting resource. A hydroacoustic survey was done on Nov. 16 with Natural Resources Conservation Service.

A popular feature Ciara created in 202o that continues today is Field Work Fridays. The program was designed to get to know more people in the area and has highlighted 27 different farms, farmers, conservationists, and partners.

"We covered a lot of topics with Field Work Friday as we were trying to show what conservation really looks like," said Ciara.

Another highlight for Ciara was the Grand Kankakee River Paddle trip that took place last October through the Lasalle Fish and Wildlife Area.

The paddle trip took participants along a 4-mile stretch of the river where there were some bayous to explore.

"It was a great way to show off a beautiful portion of the river and showcase different river recreation activities," said Ciara. "It was also a great way for us to show the importance of water quality."

Other programs and events the NCSWCD helped plan and put on included:

A 9-part hemp webinar series that took place on the first Wednesday of each month

Water testing for the watershed management plan for the lower part of the Kankakee River

Septic Smart virtual workshop

Information booth at Fair Oaks Farms' Tractoberfest event in October.

"Despite COVID, 2020 was a good year for us," said Ciara. "We learned a lot and did plenty of training."

Just a few months into 2021, the NCSWCD has a treasure trove of activities and programs planned for the year.

"A key and interesting program that we will be doing is our Forestry Workshop Series called Newton County Woodland Walks and Talks.

"It will show landowners how to manage woodland areas on their property," added Ciara.

The first part of the in-person workshop series will be May 6 at 6 p.m. at the Holly Savannah. Gus Nyberg of NICHES Land Trust will talk about timber and wildlife management.

Other workshops will be:

June 3 at 6 p.m. at Willow Slough talking about the Fecon mulcher.

Sept. 2 at 6 p.m. tree and plant identification

Oct. 7 at 6 p.m. tree planting and care

Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. Invasive Species Demonstration Day

NCSWCD is already making plans for its Earth Night at the Newton County Pun'kin Vine Fair which will take place July 14 from 4 to 8:30 p.m.

Currently, the NCSWCD office is in the midst of moving locations to the Government Center. They plan on being completely moved to their new spot by the end of April.

"I just want everyone to know that we do have grant funding available for cost-sharing for native plantings in wet spots and cover crops in the Kankakee River watershed," added Ciara.

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