Restoring America's Heartland Takes Heart

“Because of the work being done here, perhaps those who follow us will be able to better comprehend Illinois’ historically vast and beautiful landscape.”

- Becky Hartman

The love Hank and Becky Hartman share for Nachusa Grasslands is almost as strong as the one they share for each other.

Volunteers at  Nachusa since the late 90s, the Hartmans have cared so much for their 50-acre “Big Woods” unit that native species like bottle gentian, fringed gentian and prairie gentian are making a comeback in areas where only weedy plants left behind from cattle grazing grew before.

The Nature Conservancy's Nachusa Grasslands Preserve is located in northwest Illinois near Franklin Grove.

“During the winter, we clear and burn woody invasive species such as multiflora rose and honeysuckle and cut up downed trees. In spring and summer, we work on eradicating birdsfoot trefoil and other invasive weeds,” Hank said.

"During spring, summer and fall, we harvest seeds and spread them throughout our unit. We also help with prescribed burns in the spring and fall. There is never a time when there is nothing to do.”

The Hartmans have harvested 3,500 pounds of seed from 260 species during their volunteer tenure. They take pride in their management unit and are always looking for ways to improve it.

“This means so much more than just going out and working in some place without really seeing how the work we’re doing makes a difference,” Becky said. “We have seen improvements in Big Woods over the years that we never thought we would see, and that is very rewarding.”

The Hartmans’ efforts are mirrored by a group of other very committed volunteers who have helped restore The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands Preserve to the more than 3,000 acres of prairie and oak savanna habitat it is today. Back in 1986, it was prairie enthusiasts and volunteers who saw potential in the preserve’s first parcel of land and worked to save it.

“The landscape at Nachusa that inspires us today was one of vision and hope when we first started,” said Bill Kleiman, Nachusa’s preserve manager. “Thanks to 200,000 hours of volunteer work and consistent, generous donations, Nachusa is now one of Illinois’ largest and last surviving prairie landscapes.”

Nachusa has become home to 700 native plant species and 180 species of birds like bobolinks and Henslow’s sparrows. Rare animals such as Blanding’s turtles find refuge here, and the site hosts Illinois’ largest population of federally-threatened prairie bush clover.

“There are so many plant and animal species that might completely disappear unless we make the effort to preserve and restore areas like Nachusa,” Becky said. “Because of the work being done here, perhaps those who follow us will be able to better comprehend Illinois’ historically vast and beautiful landscape.”

Learn about other Nature’s Comeback Heroes and how you can become a hero, too!


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