Building Power in the Prairie State

IEC’s social media manager spent his first week with IEC discovering what it means to build power for people and the environment.

by: Sam Bower

I often joke with new IEC hires and my friends that I joined IEC at the best time of the year possible. I spent my first week in December 2021 relatively responsibility-free, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t learning. In fact, it was a pretty great way to discover what it means to work with an organization that’s Building Power for People and the Environment in the Prairie State.

Immediately following three days of completing the usual HR onboarding tasks and chatting with my new team, I got to go on a two-day field trip (“staff retreat”) to Starved Rock State Park, just 2ish hours south of Chicago.


A lifelong Michigander, the pride I feel for the Mitten State is unmatched (except for maybe those who grew up in Texas). Michiganders usually don’t waste any time bringing Michigan into conversation. I’ve been to a few state parks in Michigan in my life, so joining the collective wonder at the natural and anthropological history of these places with friends, family, and strangers isn’t new. My amazement with Illinois was. 


This was my first visit to a state park in Illinois. During our team hike through part of the park, I could only imagine what this place looked like in the summer or the fall, when the trees still had leaves and Illinois was filled with color. Don’t get me wrong, Starved Rock in December has its own unique, haunting beauty, but there’s something extra special about a crisp morning hike through the trees–

“the colors in autumn, so bright, just before they lose it all”–Taylor Swift.

From the top of a tall cliff, we spotted pelicans floating in the dark blue water of the Illinois River below and an eagle or two soaring high above us across a grand vista. The animal-nature-lover in me stood motionless as Illinois seemed to unfold in front of me. 

Then, we made our way into an ancient canyon carved by water over thousands of years. There’s something about walking in and around rock formations that reminds you–to humble you–of the age of the world. These ecosystems are imperfectly perfect. Living plants and animals are locked in a dance with the non-living through adaptations and evolution to fit changes in the landscape and in one another.


I know that IEC’s work is tangentially related to the state park system, but sharing this experience with these folks who build the power among communities, organizations, and individuals with backgrounds and skills of all kinds to pass legislation that protects spaces like this helped me to understand my place in this organization, in Illinois, and in the environmental movement. 

Since that trip just over two years ago, I’ve been back to Starved Rock for another staff retreat but have yet to plan my own trip to an Illinois state park. Life has a way of getting in the way (as does lack of access to a car or any form of transportation to a state park–but that’s a topic for another post). Before it’s too late, I do want to make more trips around the state to take in the beauty of Illinois’ ecological and geological diversity. 

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