A college professor is conducting a study on rural life in Will County.
Bill Stewart, a professor in the Recreation, Sport and Tourism Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is conducting research on the state of rural life in the county. Stewart also is conducting the same study in Jasper County in central Iowa, just east of Des Moines.
“Those two counties are undergoing change due to pressures such as urbanization and agriculture conservation,” Stewart said. “There’s a variety of forces up there that are encroaching upon what was once rural landscape.”
Stewart said he already has been working on the first phase of the study, which involved talking with conservation, tourism, land-use planning, agriculture and community leaders in Will County about what makes the area a desirable location and what types of changes have been occurring. Based on those conversations, Stewart developed a questionnaire that was sent out to a representative sample size of residents.
The questions centered around residents’ sense of place and community in Will County, as well as their thoughts on the growth and change in the county. From the answers, he’ll aggregate the data and make a profile of Will County residents’ thoughts.
About 1,500 questionnaires were sent out through the mail to randomly selected Will County residents Jan. 17 and 18 with a cover letter and return envelope that was stamped and addressed to Stewart. There also was a link to an online version of the questionnaire with the information.
Then, about a week ago, a second wave of the questionnaire was sent out to the residents who had yet to respond. Stewart is asking any nonrespondents to take 15 to 20 minutes to respond to the questionnaire because he thinks the study can be helpful to learning more about rural life in Will County.
He said that he thinks that people who live in rural areas often don’t get to have their voices heard about the growth and change, which is why he’s doing this research.
“I’m sympathetic toward rural areas, where they kind of go through waves of development,” Stewart said. “Manufacturing comes in, then it leaves. Farming has changed the way they do business over the past 50 years.”