Greenspace, specifically the loss of it, is something very relevant in our area, says Mary Vandevord, president and CEO of HeartLands Conservancy, southern Illinois’ largest conservation nonprofit.

“We are seeing a rapid decline in biodiversity in the world and in our region,” she said. “In Illinois, we have lost almost 100 percent of our prairies and wetlands. This is causing all kinds of problems for plants and animals and for the welfare of human society.”

This is why HeartLands Conservancy has been working since 1989 to protect the lands, waters, and significant natural spaces of southern Illinois. To date, it has conserved over 60 places — more than 10,000 acres — that support farming, wildlife habitat, cultural heritage, community well-being, and scenic beauty.

“We have a brief window of time to conserve our area’s more important wildlife habitat and local farms and ensure they are here for generations to come,” Vandevord said. 

HeartLands Conservancy does this through working with private landowners, public agencies, farmers, and community groups in a variety of ways: providing grant funding to buy greenspace; helping transform these spaces into sustainable areas; protecting and managing water to promote healthy watersheds; and creating events for people to enjoy the natural world.

Some of its successes include preserving over 2,500 acres on Chouteau Island, situated in the Mississippi River just minutes north of downtown St. Louis, and preserving a 40-acre piece of land in the Edwardsville, Illinois, area to save an endangered frog from disappearing.

Floating Boardwalk at Arlington Wetlands _ HeartLands Conservancy

Floating Boardwalk at Arlington Wetlands in Pontoon Beach, Ill. (HeartLands Conservancy)

Every year, HeartLands Conservancy also hosts a series of guided hikes and paddles to connect people to the places it protects. Its popular Jingle Hike Challenge just ended (see our November/December 2023 issue), and it also organizes an annual native plant sale as well as webinars and workshops. 

“We are often working quietly and methodically behind the scenes,” said Vandevord. “As far as the recreation side, we need each other. We need to conserve land for recreation, and we need recreationalists to conserve land to create more great places for mountain biking, hiking, and paddling.”

Vandevord encourages area residents to stay up to date on what HeartLands Conservancy is doing by visiting its website, where they can see an events calendar and sign up to get the organization’s magazine and newsletter. 

“And we are always excited to talk to anybody who wants to conserve land in their area, maybe their own land,” she said. “People can also take steps toward biodiversity by caring for their own yard in a sustainable way: plant native trees, don’t use herbicides, and incorporate eco-friendly lawn care.”

HeartLands Conservancy accepts donations in the form of land and stock gifts, memorials, tribute trees, air travel offsets, business sponsorships, monetary gifts, and more. Learn more at

Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.
Top Image: Exploration Garden at Swansea Clinton Hills Conservation Park in Swansea, Ill. (HeartLands Conservancy.