Illinois – Lois Helms named 2021 IRAP Landowner of the Year

Lee County’s Helms named 2021 IRAP Landowner of the Year

Springfield, IL (STL.News) Lee County resident and conservation advocate Lois Helms is the Illinois Recreational Access Program Landowner of the Year for 2021, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced today.

The Landowner of the Year award is presented to a landowner enrolled in the IRAP program who has demonstrated outstanding wildlife management, habitat improvement and conservation practices while allowing public access on their private property through the IRAP initiative.

Helms, who died in early 2022, was a longtime participant in the program with her husband, William, who died in 2016.

The Helms family devoted an exceptional amount of attention to restoring the ecological quality of their property, including adding native tree and grassland plantings, conducting prescribed burns, and removing invasive and non-native species from the property, all while allowing access to youth, first-time hunters, and veteran hunters who otherwise would have nowhere else to hunt.

William, who initially enrolled the couple’s land in IRAP in 2012, wanted to ensure it was cared for and available to youth for recreational and learning opportunities even after his death, according to the couple’s daughter, Mindy Berge.

“We assured our father we would do all we could to keep the property as he wanted it to be, and we have received wonderful support from IRAP,” Berge said, noting that the family intends to remain in the program so that future generations of their family and the public can enjoy the land.

Lois Helms was one of six nominees recognized by IRAP staff for their conservation efforts and stewardship of Illinois’ natural resources, as well as their willingngess to allow public access to their land for recreational opportunities.  Other 2021 nominees were:

  • Father and son Jack and Andrew Robertson (Whiteside, Morgan, Scott and Macoupin counties)
  • Blake Hiltabrand (Bureau County)
  • Don Dobrinich (Montgomery County)
  • Jonna Krueger (Macoupin County)
  • Tom Held (Calhoun County)

“IDNR is grateful for landowners like Lois and her family, who have shown true dedication to improving habitat for wild game and ecologically important species like pollinators,” said IDNR Director Colleen Callahan.  “We appreciate their enthusiasm for providing new generations with the opportunity to enjoy memorable recreational experiences and learn about land management.”