Places We Protect

Chiwaukee Prairie


Flowering grasslands with trees in the background.
Shooting stars in bloom at Chiwaukee Prairie, Wisconsin © Barbara Jean Slane

Chiwaukee Prairie is part of the last unbroken stretch of prairie of its kind in Wisconsin.


Encompassing a narrow run of shoreline along Lake Michigan in southeast Wisconsin, Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area is part of the last unbroken stretch of prairie of its kind in the state and home to more than 400 plant species, including 26 rare plants.

Chiwaukee Prairie is also home to a variety of wildlife from 75 species of grassland and wetland birds to red foxes, woodchucks and numerous reptiles, amphibians and small mammals.

In the 1920s, there was a plan to develop the area for luxury homes, a golf course and a beachside hotel with train service from both Chicago and Milwaukee. These plans were abandoned during the Depression, but the land was subdivided and sold in small parcels to hundreds of individuals.

Protection of Chiwaukee Prairie was initiated in 1965 by a dedicated group of local citizens who loved the prairie and wanted to preserve it for future generations. They contacted The Nature Conservancy for help with funding to acquire the more than 300 acres of remaining prairie. Since that time, we have worked with landowners, local citizens and both public and private partners to acquire hundreds of small parcels of land.

In spring 2015, TNC donated 150 acres at Chiwaukee Prairie to the State of Wisconsin for continued use as a valuable conservation area offering diverse public recreation opportunities in southeast Wisconsin. We also donated a permanent endowment to supplement management costs at the preserve, with the funds to be managed by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

In 2019, TNC began a major restoration project on an additional 150 acres of land to the immediate west of the original preserve. This work is helping protect groundwater and restore the hydrology of Chiwaukee Prairie.

Local citizens continue to play a critical role in protecting Chiwaukee Prairie through their involvement in the Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund. They remove invasive species and help burn the prairie to keep it healthy, raise funds to protect land and spread the word to engage more people in caring for this special place.

Aerial photo showing Lake Michigan shoreline, and the beach and wetlands of the Chiwaukee Prairie-Illinois Beach Lakeplain
The Lakeplain: The Chiwaukee Prairie-Illinois Beach Lakeplain is a globally important wetland. © Soaring Badger Productions


Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area is part of the Chiwaukee Prairie-Illinois Beach Lake Plain. This 4,500-acre landscape represents the highest quality remaining coastal area in southeast Wisconsin and in all of Illinois. It was designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Significance in 2015.

The Lake Plain is a high priority stopover site for migratory land birds, in particular the migratory shore birds and waterfowl that move up and down the shore of Lake Michigan through the densely-populated area that includes the cities of Milwaukee, Kenosha, Waukegan and Chicago.

The Lake Plain is also home to one of the largest and most well-studied populations of the Blanding’s turtle, which is a rare species in Wisconsin and an endangered species in Illinois.

Together with our partners at the Chiwaukee Prairie Preservation Fund, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Village of Pleasant Prairie, and the Lake County Forest Preserve District and Department of Natural Resources in Illinois, TNC supporters have protected thousands of nearly contiguous acres in this unique lake plain for native plants, wildlife and people who love this beautiful piece of our natural heritage.

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