Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy life to check out these images! To capture these photos, I have put in hours of research, pre-production, field work, and post-production. Each image was carefully taken to try and capture the story and beauty of this park.
White Pines Forest State Park
This is a place to tell you a bit of my personal story that lives behind these images. Many of the thoughts were recorded the day of the shoot with a field journal.
I’ve always been more of a morning person. There’s something so serene about watching the sunrise, getting a head start on your work, and going to places before anyone else. The White Pines trip was no exception.
Right away I was very impressed. From the sign, to the grass, to the trails, the park was well-maintained. We arrived when there were only a couple other people in the park, all of which had dogs. Luckily, we decided to let our family dog, Millie, sit this one out. Right out of the car, we walked over to Pine Creek. The creek had carved out rock bluffs throughout the park. It reminded me of Starved Rock State Park and a tiny Grand Canyon, but nonetheless, it was beautiful.
A few more minutes into the shoot, I realized I was struggling with photography today. Somedays you just wake up and the creative gears aren’t turning. This quickly became an issue since the park is not very diverse. It is beautiful, just not diverse. This forced me to rethink my approach. How was I going to create a collection that tells a story? More importantly, how was I going to tell a story that will embrace the imagination? The answer: showing the park big, and small, nature-made, and man-made. I captured images of what most people would just walk right by, overlooking the beauty: a shot of a weed glimmering in the sun, a shot of the paths thousands have walked on, and an angle most do not see of one of the most visited parts of the park. I tried to give a spotlight to the obvious.
While writing this, I have come to realize that some of the most beautiful things lie right before our eyes, and all we have to do to find them is slow down. One of my favorite quotes is the famous “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Of course, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As a photographer, and just as a person in general, it’s easy to chase the show-stopping photos or events. But, there will always be someone else capturing and experiencing those moments. There won’t always be someone capturing the obvious and appreciating it. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t chase those adventurous opportunities, those are still my favorite, but I guess I’m saying not everything needs to be diverse or complex in order to see the true beauty of things. It’s always right in front of us, we just need to change our perspective. After all, when you change your perspective, you change the world.
The Fight for Nature
For 24 years, avid conservationists fought to designate the White Pines Forest region as a state park. These conservationists thought it to be vital that the southernmost section of native White Pines in Illinois be saved. In 1903, this group of individuals moved for a designation of the park protecting the trees. However, then Governor Richard Yates, vetoed the notion deeming “financial restrictions” as the cause. In the years after, the 385 acre piece of land started to gain popularity and support from Chicago residents. In 1912, Starved Rock State Park received its designation. Naturally, those fighting for White Pines became very frustrated. It was at this time that people began to rally even more, grabbing the attention of major Chicago media outlets. In 1927, the Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio backed the conservationists. Now, having massive support and news coverage, the state, many believe, felt the pressure to approve the park’s designation. That same year, Governor Len Small purchased the former Black Hawk territory for $63,949.
Just two years later, the Great Depression swept across the United States, and eventually, the world. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). This program was designed to employ groups of Americans during the Great Depression in order to protect our precious lands, primarily state and national parks. Many members of the CCC were veterans who served during World War 1 and the years after. Thus the CCC had three main benefits: employing Americans during the Great Depression, providing veterans support through employment, and protecting American land. White Pines Forest State Park was one of the locations which received support from the Civilian Conservation Corps. From 1933-1939, the CCC hired two-hundred men to build cabins and other amenities for visitors. Due to the very strong conservation group protecting the land, the corps was not allowed to utilize the trees in the area to build. This led to the shipment of logs at 30 cents a piece from as far away as Oregon and Washington state.
After 24 years of fighting for designation, continued growth through the Great Depression, and staunch conservation efforts, the park is now one of the most visited in the state, averaging 350,000 visitors a year. And although the fight took many years, the park was only the third piece of land to receive State Park status, making it the third oldest park in the state of Illinois. In 2001, it was designated as Illinois’ 300th Nature Preserve. 37 years after Illinois Beach State Park’s Southern Unit became the first Nature Preserve in the state. Now, 117 years after the first fight began, families, campers, and hikers can enjoy some of the most beautiful land in Illinois. The park has numerous trails, creeks, and bluffs for visitors to enjoy. While at White Pines Forest State Park, it is easy to forget about the world around you, but it’s important to remember the hundreds of people who fought tirelessly in order to save the beautiful land that is White Pines Forest.