Our People

Karen Tharp

Director of Nature Allies

Chicago, Illinois

Headshot of Karen Tharp.

Karen Tharp Director of Nature Allies © Ryne Tharp

Areas of Expertise

volunteer engagement, land stewardship and restoration, urban conservation, partnerships




For over 25 years, Karen has been supporting activities across The Nature Conservancy that connect people from all walks of life to the natural world through community stewardship. Most of those years were spent leading the Volunteer Stewardship Network, a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission supporting a network of 110 organizations including land trusts, forest preserve districts, conservation districts, park districts and grassroot organizations. This statewide network collectively was responsible for managing over 450 natural areas across Illinois with a shared vision to support volunteers to restore and preserve nature. For five years, she served as the Director of Urban Stewardship and Engagement in Chicago, building an urban conservation program that benefits both biodiversity and people, utilizing the principles of whole communities and rooted in equity, health, and democratization of green space. During this time, she co-developed a shared position between The Nature Conservancy and the Chicago Park District’s natural areas program to support community connections, volunteerism, and urban biodiversity across the district’s expansive system of natural green spaces embedded in neighborhoods and scattered throughout the city. She currently leads the Nature Allies program focused on volunteer and community engagement across the Conservancy. Karen has a BS in International Studies from Illinois State University and currently resides in northern suburbs of the Chicago region with her husband and son.

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