ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A woman known for her love of nature and commitment to the environment is a finalist in Eyewitness News’ “Remarkable Women” campaign.

She is credited with expanding programs at Severson Dells Nature Center while inspiring people to make a difference. That is what makes Ann Wasser remarkable.

Andrea Wallace Noble worked as a summer staffer at the nature center as a teenager. Wasser, the director of the center, allowed Noble to shadow her.

“Watching Ann in her position inspired me to go into this field,” Noble said.

Noble went on to college and studied environmental education. She is now a naturalist and educator at Severson Dells, working under Wasser’s direction. Noble called Wasser’s leadership creative and collaborative.

“She’s always working hard to strengthen connections with the community, expand our network through partnerships, mentor staff and also bring on new AmeriCorps members to our team,” Noble said.

Severson Dells has become an AmeriCorps Service Site through Wasser’s outreach. She has expanded nature education at Severson by partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of Rockford and other community organizations.

“I think more people are waking up to climate change and its effects, but also the importance of nature and spending time in nature,” Wasser said. “There’s been so much more research about how nature effects human health and how beneficial it is for both our mental and physical health.”

Unstructured, outdoor playtime lets kids learn about nature and themselves, according to Wasser.

“Climbing trees is good for your kids! I know there are some parents who feel nervous about that, but that’s something that’s really good for them,” she said. “It’s really good for their fine and gross motor skills and balance, but it’s also good for them to challenge themselves and start to learn their limits.”

Expanding programs at Severson for kids of all ages is something Wasser plans to continue. She said that being noticed for her accomplishments is both heart-warming and humbling.

“Obviously you don’t do the work for awards and accolades, you do it because it’s something that’s necessary and good for the community,” Wasser said. “But to have people recognize the work you’re doing, feels, feels really good.”