33 years of community led grasslands restoration in NW Cook County, IL

By the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards

This is the fourth of four introductions to our upcoming field trips for our GRN workshop August 16 and 17. Registration for this year’s GRN closes on 7/31, make sure to get your spot before they are all filled up. https://grasslandrestorationnetwork.org/2022/06/23/1727/

In the northwest of Cook County, the Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards (PCPS) have been working on over 225 acres of grassland restoration of a 4,430 acre protected block of natural area for the past three decades. The Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) purchased a remnant gravel hill prairie and  surrounding agricultural land parcel by parcel throughout  the 1960’s. The gravel hill prairie was dedicated as a state nature preserve in 1965. In 1989, a volunteer group of stewards kicked off with support from The Nature Conservancy and FPCC. The initial goal of the project was to enhance the remnant prairie community and create a botanically rich prairie restoration surrounding the remnant. Early on, the decision was made to restore a large area of diverse, functional prairie plant communities, while balancing the needs of individual animal and plant species.

The Volunteer Stewardship Community found very early on that for a restoration to be successful, the group needed to function in many different capacities. Today, the PCPS has built a sustainable volunteer base that stewards not only the land, but also the community. At the GRN Workshop this August, tour guides will describe how two volunteer led committees oversee the vast restoration project as well as maintain a fun culture of conservation among the volunteer base. The tour will travel through decades of prairie recreation and restoration culminating in the scenic overlook of the Shoe Factory Hill Prairie Nature Preserve. The Stewards in tandem with FPCC Ecologists and Staff maintain original plantings and continue to expand the effort to restore additional swaths of grassland to this expansive corridor.

Topics to be covered during GRN Workshop:

  • Early lessons learned with grassland restoration
    • Use or misuse of tall C4 grasses
    • Strip Planting Technique in which approximately 60 acres were planted among cool season grass with the idea that plantings would eventually invade the cool season dominated areas (see Figure 2)
    • Partnership between FPCC Staff and Stewards
    • Building a community around a restoration
  • Building a Conservation Community around large restoration projects
    • Delegating responsibilities among many leaders
    • The importance of investing in volunteers

Figure 1. Tour Map including Shoe Factory Remnant and Surrounding Grassland Restoration

Figure 2. Strip Planting in Early Years

Figure 3. Poplar Creek Prairie

Figure 4. Shoe Factory Remnant Hill Prairie

About Grassland Restoration Network blog

Bill Kleiman publishes this blog. Bill's daytime job is manager of Nachusa Grasslands. We are looking for guest authors on various topics of grassland habitat restoration. Contact me with your ideas or drafts.
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