Wolf Road Prairie
One of the finest examples of a black soil prairie that was barely saved by the Great Depression.
Amongst a network of strip malls, highways, and fast food joints just outside Chicago, you will find the Wolf Road Prairie. Back in the 1920s, half of the 80-acre lot at the intersection of Wolf Road and 31st Street in Westchester, Illinois had been slated for housing development.
The prairie had been divided into nearly 600 lots for housing and commercial development. Lots were sold and developers went so far as to lay down concrete sidewalks in the southern end of the preserve. But when the Great Depression hit in 1929, and the development was abandoned. All that remained were the sidewalks.
The prairie bounced back and survived another development threat in the 1970s when a section was bought by a group called Save The Prairie Society. Along with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Salt Creek Greenway Association, and the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission manage the site, which has grown to 82 acres.
The Wolf Road Prairie is a unique mix of three ecosystems: prairie, wetlands, and savanna. The rare black soil prairie is home to over 360 native plant species. More than 140 species of birds use it as a migratory stopover. In early spring, birdwatchers gather to watch woodcock do their amazing mating flights. The sidewalks that remain have been turned into pathways allowing visitors to navigate the prairie while serving as a stark reminder of how close the prairie came to being wiped out.
Know Before You Go
There is a small parking lot on 31st St with a path that leads into the prairie. Though most of the paths are concrete, the blocks are uneven and not wheelchair friendly. You will be very close to the tall grass and plants and at some points you cannot avoid coming in contact with them. Be sure to wear long pants to avoid ticks.
The address will take you to the north side of the lot. It is a historic home in which the Save The Prairie Society works out of. They are always doing volunteer clean ups so go to their website if you'd like to get involved.
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