On Sunday morning of the reunion weekend we finally got our first look at Nachusa Grasslands, some 3100 acres (about 1254.5 hectares or 12.5 square km) or a bit more of Illinois prairie “remnants, restorations, and reconstructions” near Franklin Grove.
In 1986 the Nature Conservancy bought 250 acres of pasture land near the Rock River in Ogle County, Illinois. This little bit of land was too rocky to plow, so it remained largely native prairie while most of rest of the county was being turned into corn and bean fields. Over the years the Nature Conservancy continued to acquire more land, and much of the newly acquired land was similarly blessed by lack of plowing. Native plants, native birds, native insects abound. In a recent report the Nature Conservancy said that “Nachusa is home to 700 native plant species and 180 species of birds.” It’s a wonderful place to see, if only briefly and only in small, what Illinois, the Prairie State, looked like 200 years ago when it was about to join the Union.
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) at Nachusa
This is Ogle County, home territory for the first 18 years of my life. But I had not been back to this spot of land in a long time, and somehow I had managed not to hear about the Grasslands until a couple of years ago. When I did hear of it I was fascinated — it’s a relic of the prairie amidst the corn fields of eastern Ogle County, less than 20 miles (32 km) from Rochelle, my home town. It’s too far to travel from my current home for a quick visit, but the reunion would bring me back to Rochelle for a few days. Lisa and I decided we had been presented with an opportunity to see, not just old friends, but also this recovering Prairie for ourselves. Sunday morning we were joined at Franklin Grove by our long-time friend Margaret Carney, and we drove the few remaining miles along Lowden Road to Nachusa. Margaret’s description of the day can be read [here].
What’s so exciting about a prairie? I think Margaret makes it abundantly clear. There is very little that my words might add to her story, so I’ll content myself with posting a smattering of pictures, which I hope are evocative although none will be adequate.
Cluster of plants at Nachusa
Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum?) at Nachusa
Nachusa Grasslands vista