Happy Earth Day!
As we celebrate our planet, the City Museum wanted to feature the history behind West Chicago’s Prairie, one of the best native prairies in the State of Illinois. This image is from a 2010 prairie tour organized by the Museum during its exhibit about the native preserve.
West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve
One of the best examples of a prairie in the State is found at the West Chicago Prairie Forest Preserve. A 316-acre home to over 600 plant and animal species, it has the greatest plant diversity in all of DuPage County. Here in a variety of habitats, such as marsh, sedge meadow, mesic prairie, and savanna, is a place to see the area’s original landscape.
Some of the land was used by the Chicago & North Western Railroad as stockyards from 1929-1964. Grazing by cattle, sheep and hogs and natural prairie fires slowed the spread of non-native plants and allowed the survival of indigenous ones. Grazing also damaged parts of the landscape.
In 1975, then Mayor of West Chicago Richard Truitt, was taking a graduate class at Morton Arboretum about prairie plants and remembered seeing some of the same plants in an area of West Chicago where he used to hunt in the 1930s. In August of that year he walked through the prairie area with Wayne Lampa from the DuPage County Forest Preserve and Raymond Schulenberg of the Morton Arboretum. Lampa and Schulenberg identified over 100 native prairie plants. Currently more than 600 plant and animal species have been discovered, including many which are endangered and threatened.
With the Nature Conservancy acting as agent, 153-acres were bought in 1979; later it was resold with ownership divided between the City of West Chicago and the DuPage County Forest Preserve. After that, another 150- acres were bought by the Forest Preserve. The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of environmentally significant natural lands.
Mel Hoff, a retired chemist, founded the all volunteer West Chicago Prairie Stewardship Group in 1982. This group continues restoration work, and monitors plant and wildlife activity.
The Truitt-Hoff Nature Preserve, set aside in 2006, is located within the West Chicago Prairie, and is one of only four designated State nature preserves in the county. Here in a 150-acre select area is a sizeable remnant of native prairie (not restoration) that was not disturbed by grazing. The West Chicago Prairie is currently bisected by the Prairie Path and Commonwealth Edison electrical lines.
As part of the Millennium Seed Bank Project with the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, workers from the Chicago Botanic Garden collected seeds from native plants from the Prairie in 2004. The project seeks to collect and preserve seeds of the world’s plant populations for future generations.