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

Illinois

TNC’s public preserves in Illinois are open. We ask visitors to follow current health and safety precautions, including maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet.

Why You Should Visit

Indian Boundary Prairies, a cluster of five prairie remnants just south of Chicago, comprise the largest remaining example of high-quality grassland in Illinois and one of the best in the Midwest. 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.

Preserve History

In 1971, the Gensburg brothers donated 60 acres to TNC to launch the preserve. Fifty years later, the Indian Boundary Prairies are still collaboratively managed between TNC and Northeastern Illinois University. Altogether, the Indian Boundary Prairies have expanded to approximately 468 acres (358 acres managed by The Nature Conservancy) and reside within the municipalities of Markham and Harvey, border the city of Midlothian, and are positioned around two major highways. This placement of the prairies surrounded by community offers unique challenges and opportunities for the promotion of the intersection of people and nature and the connection of managed prairie sites with the local communities, in addition to grassland restoration.

What TNC Has Done/Is Doing

Stewardship staff work tirelessly year-round to improve the prairie so both plant and animal life can thrive. Work is performed through invasive plant species control, woody brush removal, and wetland re-creation. Controlled fires are a critical management tool used to maintaining healthy grassland communities that TNC stewardship staff are incorporating into the landscape. The resulting wetland and prairie ecosystems not only provide valuable habitat for wildlife such as the monarch butterfly and migratory bird species, but also help minimize negative environmental impacts such as flooding in the surrounding communities.

Primarily located within the city of Markham, or the “Prairie Capital of the Prairie State,” TNC is working to become an active member of the community by partnering with local education, religious and business representatives. The Indian Boundary Prairies serve as a resource to the local community by providing a living laboratory that introduces and invites people to embrace the concept of connecting people and nature in a personal way. Recently established annual programs and events include The Youth Environmental Thinkers paid internship program, the Awe of Nature Festival, and Prairie Day.

For more information, or to schedule a tour, contact Debra Williams, Community Engagement Specialist, at 708-825-9369.

Preserve Headquarters

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

Conditions

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 and narrow-leaved sundew. 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 Acadian hairstreak, 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.