National Forest Foundation

Restoring A Lost Landscape at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Restoring A Lost Landscape at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Working together with a wide range of partners, the NFF is bringing back native tallgrass prairie to Illinois.

About 60 miles southwest of Chicago sits a landscape that is the last of its kind. Established in 1996, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the first national tallgrass prairie in the country.

This remnant prairie land once housed part of the former Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. Today, it's a large-scale work-in-progress, as we work with the Forest Service and partners to restore the native prairie ecosystem.

Within a few short generations of Euro-American settlers' arrival, more than 99 percent of this biologically diverse landscape had been altered by agriculture and urbanization. Although Illinois still is known as the Prairie State, less than one-tenth of one percent of Illinois' original 21 million acres of prairie remains. What once was a vast sea of rich prairie now survives only as tiny, isolated patches. Many species of prairie plants and animals have either disappeared or are in rapid decline due to loss of habitat.

The long tradition of military and agricultural use at Midewin has left a legacy of invasive and noxious weeds. Through the restoration of Midewin, we have a rare opportunity to regain some of what has been lost, and on a scale that can make a significant difference to the survival of threatened and endangered prairie species.

Our restoration efforts focus on the South Prairie Creek Outwash Plain. When complete, this restoration will link together two ongoing restoration projects and many native prairie and wetland remnants, increasing habitat connectivity for grassland wildlife.

Within the project area, we have begun to remove old Army infrastructure to remedy habitat fragmentation. So far we have removed 16 bunkers with plans to eliminate dozens more. In addition, we are planting a high diversity of native plants to restore wildlife habitat and repel invasive species.

As the largest piece of protected open space in northeastern Illinois, Midewin offers a unique opportunity for the region to connect with nature and their public lands. Through local partnerships and support, we have brought youth crews from Chicago to work at Midewin and various volunteer days to engage the community.

In setting our vision for Midewin, we brought together many stakeholders to craft a plan that would set a course for the prairie’s and its profile with the American public.

Bison at Midewin

While outside the Treasured Landscapes project scope, the NFF worked closely with the Forest Service and partners to return bison to Illinois prairie. In the fall of 2015, 27 bison arrive at Midewin to continue restoration efforts. Learn more here or watch the video below.