Indian Boundary Prairies

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.

South of Chicago, near the junction of U.S. Route 57 and Interstate 294

Open from dawn to dusk

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

Why the Conservancy 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 the Conservancy 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.

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: Animals
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.

Map of the Indian Boundary Prairies

  • Hiking
  • Bird watching

Volunteer Opportunities
Please contact Karl Gnaedinger at 708-363-1654 or for volunteer opportunities at the Indian Boundary Prairies.

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

For information on ADA accessibility and use of OPDMDs, click here.


Directions to Markham Prairie Complex

To access the parking lot (located at 157th St. & Whipple Ave) of The Nature Conservancy’s Markham Prairie South Unit, follow the directions below.  The Markham Prairie is also the lot of Northeastern Illinois University’s Gensburg Markham Prairie, both of which are part of the “Markham Prairie Complex” site of the Indian Boundary Prairies.

Markham Prairie South (MPS) and Gensburg Markham Prairie’s (GMP) parking lies two blocks north of 159th Street (IL Route 6), in-between the 159th & I-57 full interchange lying to the west of MPS/GMP, and the 159th & I-294 full interchange lying to the east of MPS/GMP.  You will need to:

A) Exit I-57 at 159th street heading East, or
B) Exit I-294 (the Tri-State) at 159th Street heading West. 

From I-57 heading east, you will cross two stoplights (the second being Kedzie). After passing the second, you will turn north (left) on Whipple Street. It has a left turn lane. There is a McDonald’s on the northeast corner and a Popeye’s Fried Chicken on the northwest corner of Whipple and 159th. Whipple lies to the north, and the entrance to the Canterbury Shopping Center lies to the South. Turn north between McDonald’s and Popeye’s.

From I-294, you will pass through one stoplight and then turn north (right) on Whipple Avenue.

In both cases, you will turn north in between McDonald’s and Popeye’s.

Continue north on Whipple Ave. until it dead ends in a gravel parking lot. Bathrooms are in local fast food emporiums for the cost of a drink

Directions to the Indian Boundary Prairies (IBP) Office

Paintbrush Prairie and the IBP Office lie just to the west of I-57 and north of 155th Street. You will need to:

A.) Exit I-57 (the George Brennan Highway and/or the State designated Thurgood Marshall Memorial Freeway), or

B.) Exit I-294 (the Tri-State Tollway)

Exit each at 159th Street, in both cases headed west.

From I-294, head east on 159th St. and pass through three stoplights, then cross over I-57. From there, or from I-57, you will continue west over I-57, then turn right (north) at the first light just west of I-57 on 159th St., on Pulaski (aka Crawford) Avenue. Keep to the right. Head north. Pass one street, 156th Street, then, at 155th Street, opposite of the Forest Preserve entrance, turn right (east). Pass through four street intersections heading east, then, on the left, you will see the entrance to the Paintbrush Prairie Parking Lot.

If you are going to the IBP office, continue east through the next T-intersection and turn left (North) at the first driveway to the north, which is the IBP Office.

If you search for "Paintbrush Prairie Nature Preserve" in Google Maps, use the address below:
3454 West 155th Street,
Markham, IL 60428-3807

Additionally, if you plan on visiting the office, please contact us first. You can contact Karl Gnaedinger, Project Manager for Indian Boundary Prairies at 708-825-9369 (office) or 708-363-1654 (cell).


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