“I just want people to spend more time outside,” explains University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Julie Robinson. This was the passion which drove her to build a website called Local OPAL (Outdoor Playing And Learning)—an online resource that helps anyone find publicly accessible outdoor locations in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, Tazewell, Marshall and Woodford counties.
Robinson started working on the website shortly after attending the Extension’s Master Naturalist training in June 2018. “Time in [that] class convinced me that we needed a way for all our local outdoor public access areas and information about them to be more easily found,” she explains. “We all need to know what is in our backyard.”
With the help of family, friends, colleagues and EMN volunteers, Robinson identified nearly 300 local natural areas, noted their exact location, and documented details about each one. She has reported over 430 volunteer hours in her EMN volunteer role, and she is not done yet. The website is a work in progress as new details are added and areas updated. “I just want people to go outside!” Robinson exclaims.