The Preserves are For You: Dad’s love of out of doors recreation exhibits ‘something is feasible’

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Bill Bogdan and his daughter Hannah. (Photo by Anthony Schalk)

The Forest Preserve District launched a campaign this year called The Preserves Are for You. As part of the campaign, we are introducing the stories of people of different cultures and abilities spending time in the protected areas. You will learn how they learned to love nature and how the nature reserves enrich their lives. Here is the story of Bill Bogdan, a Mokena resident, and his daughter Hannah.

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Bill Bogdan grew up in South Holland and moved to Mokena in 2009 to build a home that is wheelchair accessible for him and will accommodate his growing family. He works full-time as the Disability Liaison at the Secretary of State’s Office and has competed in many adaptive sports, including mountain biking, indoor rock climbing, kayaking, hand biking, scuba diving and sled hockey.

Hannah Bogdan, 19, grew up in Mokena where she was on the cross-country and track teams at Lincoln-Way Central High School. After graduating in 2021, she attended one year of college at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But this year she’s transferring to Prince William Sound College in Alaska to study adaptive outdoor recreation. She said her father inspired her to pursue a career in this field. “My dad has participated in adaptive sports my entire life and being around has created such a sense of joy that I never want that feeling to end,” she explained.

education

Born in 1969, Bill said his mother thought something was wrong with him when he couldn’t sit up by himself. Doctors told her Bill would be slow to develop, but she insisted, and Bill was diagnosed with neuroblastoma of the spine at eight months old.

He underwent surgery, 18 months of chemotherapy and four weeks of radiation, which saved his life but left him with incomplete paraplegia, meaning he is paralyzed from the knee down in the left leg and from the waist down in the right leg.

As a result, Bill was unable to play organized sports in elementary school or high school. The closest he came to that was when he was named the team mascot for a friend’s Little League team.

“They gave me a South Holland Little League hat and that’s the only way I got one,” he recalled.

But what he couldn’t get at school, he got at home from his parents.

Bill’s parents let him play backyard soccer with friends, where he was always the designated quarterback. And the family made weekly trips to the Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland and frequent fishing trips to a nearby lake in Thornton.

“I’ve been disabled my whole life,” said Bill. “But I had a great family and my parents always wanted my disability to never get in the way of me. They didn’t want me to be disfellowshipped or use that as an excuse.”

Bill passed his love of outdoor activities on to his family. Hannah said growing up, she remembers always participating in programs run by the Forest Preserve District of Will County. And in high school, her cross-country team used the Hickory Creek Bikeway for training.

“During the summer, we met there every day at 7 a.m. and ran,” she said. “It was nicer than running around school or the neighborhood.”

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preserve love

Moving to Mokena not only provided Bill with the accessible home he needed, but also access to the 1,541-acre Hickory Creek Preserve, which is just 10 minutes away and accessible by bike.

“Being so close to Hickory Creek, we love to get out and go for walks and bike rides,” Bill said of his family, which includes Hannah, wife Laura, and children Jack, 13, and Madelyn, 11. “We love the changing of the seasons and like to take part in different programs that are offered there.”

The family also branched out to other Forest Preserve locations, including kayaking at Monee Reservoir and Whalon Lake and hiking in Hadley Valley and Messenger Woods Nature Preserve.

“For me, conservation areas have always been about family, fun and nature,” said Bill. “I love the quiet, I love the quiet. Sometimes we come out and see deer, frogs, snakes and birds. There is so much beauty out here.

“I find it therapeutic,” he added. “We’re always in the hustle and bustle of the city and sometimes you can get lost in the woods and forget where you are.”

Bill uses a hand bike to ride on paved trails, an adaptive mountain bike on natural-surface trails, and a special wheelchair that can roll through sand or snow that he took on a recent trip to Hawaii.

“At the end of the month I’m flying to Colorado and I’m going to mountain bike for a week,” he said. “They will take us to the ski slopes and have our bikes on the mountain and we will take them straight down the mountain.”

Hannah loves being in nature so much that after her freshman year of college she decided against a career as a lawyer and paralegal.

“I realized that if I could be outside and explore nature, I would hate sitting at a desk all day,” she said. “There are so many cool things in nature. You can see flowers or a butterfly. I like looking at the little things. It’s exciting to be outside.”

pass it on

Bill said while he loves to visit state and national parks, the local wildlife sanctuaries offer something for everyone to enjoy.

“You’re close to home and you can make a day trip out of it,” he said. “So you don’t drive three, four, five hours or longer. These are right in your backyard.”

Bill encourages people with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of the accessible facilities provided.

“You have to get out and enjoy life,” he says. “In this day and age there is nothing that cannot be done.”

And Bill encourages outdoor agencies to partner with nonprofits to increase accessibility “for people of all ages and abilities to participate in the great outdoors,” he said. “That’s the ultimate goal I’d like to see.”

Hannah, who has been working as a camp counselor this summer, hopes to use her love of the outdoors and children, and everything she learned from her father’s adaptive sports outings, in her career.

“My dad always has such a positive attitude,” she said. “He never lets his disability stop him from doing anything and he’s always out on trails, bike rides or the beach, and he’s always climbing and trying new things. Throughout my life he has always made sure I know that anything is possible and that there is nothing I cannot do.”

Kayak photo

If the Bogdan family look familiar, you may have spotted them alongside one of the Forest Preserve District’s kayak trailers. The original photo of Bill, Hannah, Jack and Madelyn sitting in a kayak was taken at Monee Reservoir in 2015 and used in a photo wrap around the trailer. When the family came across the trailer adorned with their photo at Whalon Lake in 2018, another photo was taken of Bill and the children in front of the trailer

“These pictures show how much fun the forest preserves are for families!” said Bill.

If you are interested in participating in a Forest Preserve District of Will County program and need additional help or service, you may indicate this when registering for a program or submit a request online at least 48 hours prior to the program.