Butterflies thrive in the native habitat found at Indian Boundary Prairies.
Indian Boundary Prairies Butterflies thrive in the native habitat found at Indian Boundary Prairies. © Karl Gnaedinger/The Nature Conservancy

Places We Protect

Indian Boundary Prairies


A portion of the Indian Boundary Prairies has been named a National Natural Landmark.

Why You Should Visit

Indian Boundary Prairies, a cluster of four prairies just south of Chicago, comprise the largest remaining example of high-quality grassland in Illinois and one of the best in the Midwest. With more butterflies and more plant diversity than almost any other prairie in the state, they are a storehouse of genetic resources and a globally important natural asset.

With this great diversity of plant and animal life, the Indian Boundary Prairies are a sort of biological "ark" for the future — a living flotilla of hope for the inhabitants of Illinois' once vast prairie community. Because of their importance, a portion of the Indian Boundary Prairies has been named a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Why TNC Selected This Site

In the 1960s, Dr. Robert F. Betz of Northeastern Illinois University, Karl Bartel and other Chicago-area biologists began surveys of the prairie and organized efforts to protect it. In 1971, the Gensburg brothers donated 60 acres to Northeastern Illinois University to launch the preserve. Efforts to protect the Indian Boundary Prairies by the Conservancy continue to this day. There still are more than 50 acres of high-quality prairie that remain unprotected and are threatened by future development.

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

The 370 acres currently protected are owned and managed by the Conservancy and Northeastern Illinois University. A local volunteer group, the Friends of the Indian Boundary Prairies, helps care for the natural areas and conducts tours and other educational activities for the public.

Northeastern Illinois University biologist Ron Panzer has successfully reintroduced the Franklin's ground squirrel, an original inhabitant of these prairies, whose local populations had become extinct. Conservancy staff and volunteers monitor several rare species populations and conduct stewardship activities designed to bolster them. The grasslands have become a source of pride for the local community of Markham, which calls itself the "Prairie Capital of the Prairie State."

The Nature Conservancy in Illinois has collaborated with the Chicago Wilderness alliance to produce the Climate Action Plan for Nature. This Plan presents strategies for mitigating the impacts of climate change on natural areas in the Chicago Wilderness region, including Indian Boundary Prairies.

Preserve Headquarters

The preserve headquarters is located at 3454 West 155th Street, Markham, Illinois. 


While visiting, staff recommends you wear hiking shoes and insect repellant for mosquitoes and/or ticks.

What to See: Plants

Natural communities include black soil prairie, sand prairie and sedge meadow. Indian grass, little bluestem and big bluestem are common, with cord grass, bluejoint grass and sedges dominating the wetter swales. Unusual plants found here are small sundrops, narrow-leaved sundew and yellow-eyed grass. More than 250 species of plants thrive at the prairies, including the endangered eastern prairie white fringed orchid.

What to See: Wildlife

Indian Boundary Prairies are an important sanctuary for butterflies and other animals that require large expanses of high-quality natural area. More than 750 insect species are known to inhabit the prairies, including the Aphrodite fritillary, bunchgrass skipper and dreamy dusky wing butterflies. The smooth green snake, eastern milk snake and 11 other species of amphibians and reptiles are found here. Ninety-seven bird species have been recorded, including the Virginian rail, lesser and great yellow legs, savanna sparrows, sandpipers and the state-threatened Henslow's sparrow. The Indian Boundary Prairies are critical habitat for other birds, such as the bobolink and eastern meadowlark. Gray foxes have denned on the prairie for several years.

Volunteer Opportunities

Please contact Karl Gnaedinger at 708-363-1654 or kgnaedinger@tnc.org for volunteer opportunities at the Indian Boundary Prairies.

Please stay on the trails to avoid harming native plant communities or trespassing on private land.