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Moorings helped coordinate yet another
IPP bridge project. For this one, some 80
volunteers provided their skills and labor
to build a long bridge to replace a railroad
bridge in the town of Wheaton. People
from all backgrounds got involved.
Among the volunteers were high school
students from a local employment train-
ing program who fabricated the bridge’s
metal framework.
According to Mary Jo Malach, current
secretary of the board of directors of the
Illinois Prairie Path advocacy group, a
project like that would have been impos-
sible without the seamless coordination
and strong leadership provided by the
Moorings and Wilsons. “They’re advo-
cates for every single detail about the
trail—who volunteers like that? There are
just not many people like them around.”
Mile Commitment
The IPP was the brainchild of May
Theilgaard Watts, a local artist, writer,
horticulturist and early environmentalist.
She saw the great potential for the unused
tracks and in 1963 penned a letter about
it that was published in the
Watts wrote, “The right-of-way
of the Aurora electric road lies waiting.
If we have the courage and foresight ...
then we can create from this strip a proud
resource.” Watts ended the letter with a
call to action, telling readers that “many
hands are itching” and “many bulldoz-
ers are drooling” for this land. Shortly
after the letter was published, 80 people
turned out for a walk along the path.
Watts spoke widely to local groups
and municipalities to drum up support
for the path. “She was a tall and quite
beautiful woman, and always had a twin-
kle in her eye when she spoke,” recalls
Jean Mooring.
The path’s eventual success owes much
of its initial spark to Watts and a small
group of volunteers who happened to be
women. “May’s original group did a lot
of work, securing the trail and educat-
ing people about it. They raised a great
deal of money over a three-year period,
and they worked with big entities,” says
Malach. “This group of women set the
tone for the next wave of volunteers.”
That wave notably includes the
Moorings and Wilsons. Paul Mooring
has served on the IPP board since 1971,
and spent 21 years as board president.
He worked at Argonne National
Laboratory as a physicist for more than
years. Now, at age 91, he continues to
work part-time in the field.)
Jean continues to serve on the IPP
board after 32 years and volunteered as
editor of the organization’s newsletter for
years. Raising their three daughters
while deeply involved in development of
the IPP made the Moorings’ volunteering
commitment a family affair.
Dick Wilson first became acquainted
with the IPP in the early 1960s when,
as a scoutmaster, he led Boy Scout hikes
along the path. He saw the trail as a great
resource for anyone who wanted to get out
and enjoy the natural world. In 1965, he
decided to join the trail’s volunteer board.
I thought [the IPP] was going to be
very important,” says Wilson, 86. He was
right. The trail not only became a land-
mark in the region. It also was an impor-
tant element in his personal life: He met
his future wife on the trail in 1971.
We met on a 20-mile hike put
together by the Sierra Club,” says Wilson,
who retired from his job as a lab techni-
cian for a petroleum products company
in 1985. “I figured that a woman who
can hike 20 miles is the one for me.”
After Dick married Nancy in 1972, the
Wilsons became another dynamic duo
among IPP volunteers. Nancy served on
the IPP board from 2006 to 2011, and
Dick retired from the board in 2011 after
consecutive years of service.
For the first 22 years of the IPP, the
trail was maintained entirely by volun-
teers. In addition to building bridges, the
Wilsons, Moorings and others cleared
deadfall, installed trash cans and benches,
and built display cases for maps. Before
the trail was largely taken over by DuPage
County in 1985, volunteers performed all
the political and administrative duties as
well, such as coordinating efforts among
the towns along the corridor, raising
funds to pay for insurance, and hiring
contractors. And, of course, they swiftly
took action to mobilize volunteers when
they needed to fight for the trail.
It’s the variety [of volunteer work]
that makes it so interesting,” says Nancy,
She retired in 1989 from a local com-
munity college, where she taught medical