By Dermot Connolly
The second annual CONEX, a free conservation expo, is being held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at Stagg High School. 8015 W. 111th St., in Palos Hills.
The family-friendly event featuring live animals, live music, a craft fair, face-painting and even a tyrannosaurus rex skull rented from the Field Museum is being organized by Homes4Monarchs, a nonprofit organization founded by Palos Park resident Peter Gordan, a senior at Stagg.
While Homes4Monarchs aims to save monarch butterflies and other native pollinators by distributing free packets of milkweed seed to encourage people to grow the plant, which is the only food of the monarch caterpillar.
“CONEX is an extension of what I am doing that will focus not just on butterflies but on all the different aspects of conservation,” said Gordan, who started Homes4Monarchs nearly four years ago. “It is a very diverse group of organizations that are coming to celebrate the natural world.”
Gordan said the event is also designed to teach high school students and others about conservation.
“It is a really good learning experience. It is not just about the environment. The goal is to show how humans are interconnected and can work with the environment.
More than 40 information tables from various organizations will be there. These include the Lake Katherine Nature Preserve in Palos Heights, the Shedd Aquarium, Oak Lawn Children’s Museum, Brookfield Zoo, and Indiana Dunes National Park and Illinois Bobcat Foundation, among others.
“This isn’t a one-person operation,” he added, pointing out that 55 Stagg student volunteers will be helping to make sure everything runs smoothly. “I do the dirty work, the logistical stuff. But I couldn’t have done it without more than 250 additional volunteers. It is really a huge collaboration. It is magical to me to see it all come together,” said Gordan.
He noted that besides the T-Rex skull that visitors will be able to touch, an organization called Earth Moving Animals, run by another high schooler named Alex DeMarchi, is bringing live exotic animals that visitors will be able to touch, interact with and learn more about.
The craft fair will feature more than 20 small-business vendors selling locally-made products such as scarves, essential oils, candles, photography, floral arrangements, and handmade jewelry.
Refreshments available will include Fat Tommy’s Hot Dogs selling all-beef hot dogs, ice cream, and side dishes, and Doughs Guys in Palos Heights selling their signature cupcakes.
The full list of organizations and vendors participating is available on the CONEX Facebook event post. More information is also available at homes4monarchs.wixsite.com.
“I have high hopes for this event. Last year, more than 1,000 people came out, and we got four inches of snow. If the weather holds out, we should get a lot more this year,” said Gordan, who took a brief break from planning the conservation expo to focus college applications.
“I just love doing this. (Environmental conservation) is my life’s passion,” said the senior, who plans to major in environmental science in college.