BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A self-proclaimed science nerd is settling in nicely as the next director of the Lee County Conservation District.
Nathan Unsworth was hired in March as the replacement for Tom Buckley, who’s retiring in June. Unsworth is the former Parks Director for the city of Newton, but said his passion has always been nature.
From growing up in farm fields of western Illinois and along the bluffs of the Mississippi River, Unsworth, said he was always exploring the timbers and fields of Illinois with his parents and grandparents.
Both sides of his family had farming operations so Unsworth knew from a young age that he wanted to become a naturalist.
“Growing up both sides of my family had farms,” Unsworth said. “My mom’s farm was on the Mississippi so I would spend summers there mushroom hunting and what not. My dad’s farm was more the real crop, traditional farmland and we did a lot deer hunting in the fall.”
But he says the biggest impact on his life, from a nature perspective, came from his grandfather.
“Probably the biggest impact was my grandpa. I spent a lot of time with my grandma and grandpa growing up and I would go out and chore with him and drive around the countryside and look at wildlife,” he said. “I’d make him go by certain ponds to see what was out there. So that’s where the interest was born. Then… I was kind of a science nerd as a kid so that’s where it all came from.”
Currently in his fourth week on the job, the Iowa State University graduate said he’s spending time getting acquainted with the properties in Lee County and the projects the group is working on.
“Lee County has a lot of great things they’ve been doing over the last couple years and they’ve made lots of improvements to the campgrounds which is great. I’m big in getting people out to those parks and engaging in the outdoors. There are a lot of options out there and then we have the conservation center so we want to make sure we keep people engaged in the programming here, too.”
Unsworth started with the Jackson County Conservation District as a naturalist and then moved to Newton as a Parks District coordinator. He said that job didn’t offer the same conservation type of work, but did offer him a chance to work with people in an outdoor setting. Unsworth had done some fundraising work with the district to get a dog park built in the city so he was familiar with the workings of the department.
“The people aspect of that job is what I loved the most, but I missed the naturalist work. When this job opened up, I saw an opportunity to move closer to home and get back into the conservation and naturalist work. And that excited me,” he said.
Looking ahead to the future of the program, Unsworth said he’s working with Buckley prior to his retirement to create a vision of each segment of the conservation district.
“I think it’s just kind of with Tom leaving and me stepping in creating that vision of where we’re going and kind of looking at each park to come up with a plan to gauge whether we are doing the best,” he said. “When I took over in Newton there wasn’t a plan and I’m a goal-setter so we had to put together a list of goals and then we started working toward that. Now, I’m just developing a vision so we have a road map of sorts of where we want to be in the next few years.
Unsworth said he also wanted to maximize the district’s impact on private lands by continuing to keep healthy relationships with landowners and working to keep the Conservation Reserve Program viable as well as continuing to build on relationships with Pheasants Forever, Quails Forever, and other environmental steward programs.