Nachusa Grasslands

 

Sandstone outcroping

Illinois Preserve Guide for
Nachusa Grasslands

Preserve description: Steep sandstone outcrops descending into rocky meadows and streams made Nachusa Grasslands difficult to farm and saved large pieces of native prairie from the plow. The rolling landscape of the Grasslands is a mosaic of eleven different natural community types including dry prairie, tallgrass prairie, bur oak savanna, sand savanna, fen, sedge meadow, and streamside marsh. Scattered like a broken string of pearls among old corn and soybean fields, these high quality natural areas provide a unique opportunity to restore Illinois’ original landscape on a large scale.

Much of the grandeur and ecological significance of Nachusa Grasslands derives from its large size, about 1300 acres, protected by acquisition or conservation easements. Our goal is to protect additional high priority lands, and to replant and restore the old fields that separate the "pearls" of healthy prairie. Eventually we hope to create a link with nearby Franklin Creek State Preservation Area (515 acres), thereby maximizing the amount of wildlife habitat.

Nachusa Grasslands is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, a private non-profit group whose mission is to preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

Stewardship: Here in the eastern part of the tallgrass prairie region with rich soils and ample rainfall, the grassland ecosystem rapidly dies without fire. In presettlement times, fire burned through prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands. Reintroducing this ancient force is an important part of the stewardship effort at Nachusa Grasslands.

 Much of the ecological restoration work at Nachusa Grasslands is accomplished with the help of a growing volunteer group that is actively helping to manage the preserve. Volunteers participate in many activities. They gather rare prairie and savanna seeds and sow them into degraded areas, monitor breeding bird populations, and conduct public educational activities. They also actively remove invasive European and Asian weeds. Volunteers hold an annual prairie festival on the third Saturday in September, "Autumn-on-the-Prairie," which draws several hundred people each year.

Scientist Ron Panzer has conducted one of the world’s first successful reintroductions of a rare insect at Nachusa Grasslands, the gorgone checkerspot butterfly. The butterflies are rescued from prairie fragments that are being lost to development and transported to the Grasslands where they have a greatly improved chance of long-term survival.

Hiking the Preserve: Nachusa Grasslands is open to the public for hiking, bird watching, and other activities that do not harm the natural landscape. The grasslands are in bloom from April through October, but the ruddy color of little bluestem grass in winter makes the preserve’s rolling landscape beautiful year round. Interpretive brochures to guide you to areas of particular interest can be found at the main entrance to the preserve at the kiosk. Volunteers of Nachusa Grasslands conduct periodic tours, bird walks, and other special events. Call 815-456-2340 for further information. The mailing address is 2055 Lowden Road, Franklin Grove IL 61031.

Natural Quality: Upland sandpipers migrate all the way from the Pampas of Argentina to nest at Nachusa Grasslands. Grasshopper sparrows, dickcissels, bobolinks and Henslow’s sparrows can be seen perched in the colorful prairie plants. Badgers and other "Prairie State" wildlife that need a lot of space live at the Grasslands. A number of very rare plants, some listed on the Federal Endangered Species List are: prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya), fameflower (Talinum rugospermum), Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii), kitten tails (Wulfenia bullii), forked aster (Aster furcatus), downy yellow painted cup (Castilleja sessiliflora), and prairie lion’s tooth (Agoseris cuspidata).

Scientists have mounting evidence that only large preserves can sustain healthy ecosystems over the long run. Nachusa Grasslands gives us the rare chance to protect a place where our grandchildren’s children will be able to stand on a grassy knoll and look out into the distance across a living landscape that is their heritage.

To view pictures and descriptions of some plants and birds that are common to Nachusa Grasslands, click here.

To visit the Nature conservancy, click here.