Volunteers at Midewin explain their role in educating visitors and restoring the prairie.
“I look forward to each trip to Nachusa; it is like going home and seeing lifelong friends.”
– John Heneghan, volunteer at Nachusa Grasslands
When John Heneghan looks out over the amber grassland at The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, he sees not only the purple and yellow hues of bergamot and coreopsis, but also the transformation the preserve has taken in its 25 years of existence.
“I would like to think I have had some small part in it,” said Heneghan, a volunteer at Nachusa since 2007.
Nachusa celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and has come a long way from the initial 80 acres purchased by the Conservancy. Through land acquisitions, restoration and a deep passion for conservation, Nachusa now stretches more than 3,000 acres and is home to 700 native plant species and 180 species of birds.
Saving Remnant Prairie
This past year, the Conservancy added 350 acres to the preserve with the purchase of the Orland Tract. This is an important step as nearly 90 percent of the Orland Tract is made up of remnant prairie and oak savanna habitat which has never been plowed.
The Orland Tract helps create a critical bird migration corridor, and it hosts the state-listed rare plants Hill’s thistle, kittentails and fame flower. Prior to the purchase, the Orland Tract faced the threat of development, and the remnant habitat was struggling due to a lack of fire, grazing issues and invasive species. Now that the Conservancy has purchased this land, the Orland Tract can be restored to a healthy habitat.
A Conservation Community
The volunteers at Nachusa and other preserves, including the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Emiquon, are an important factor of restoration work. Gemma Guenther, Midewin’s assistant volunteer coordinator, believes volunteers are among the best advocates for conservation. The Conservancy relies on them to achieve its mission of restoring native habitat, educating the public and providing opportunities for recreation.
As much as the Conservancy relies on it volunteers, the relationship is often mutually beneficial. While the volunteers are working to restore the preserves, the time they spend at the preserves allows them to bond with one another and come together as a community.
“We felt we had found a place we could do something positive for the environment,” Heneghan said. “I look forward to each trip to Nachusa; it is like going home and seeing lifelong friends.”
Nachusa staff members are eagerly looking onto the next 25 years with hopes of more land acquisition and the introduction of native animal species such as bison and prairie chicken.
“Nachusa has been recognized as one of the top two places in Illinois for the reintroduction of the greater prairie chicken,” said Cody Considine, Conservancy staff at Nachusa. “If we continue to protect and restore more high quality grassland habitat, the prairie chicken may become a reality at Nachusa Grasslands in the next 25 years.”
And, staff will not be alone in their efforts.
“Nachusa Grasslands is a place of wonder and beauty,” said Mary Meier, a Nachusa volunteer. “We are very fortunate to have played a part in its transformation, and we look forward to many more years of conservation accomplishments.”