Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, Illinois

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Long before it attained statehood in 1818, Illinois was a tallgrass prairie teeming with an array of wildlife. In the decades that followed, much of the land was subdivided, sold, and plowed to create farmland, becoming a “breadbasket state” but upending much of the natural ecosystem in the process. In recent decades, however, a massive volunteer effort has ushered in the return of an impressive range of Illinois’ native flora and fauna—from clovers to plovers to a literal herds of bison—across a significant swath of land just outside Chicago

The Nachusa Grassland is a 4,000-acre tract of restored prairie. From dawn to dusk, visitors can experience the landscape and its bounty of plants and animals up close

The preserve is home to all walks of life, from turtles, toads and cottontail rabbits to sparrows, red-tailed hawks and harriers, as well as over 700 species of native plants. In October 2014, the preserve introduced a herd of 30 American bison —animals that inhabited the Midwest in dizzying numbers before European colonization. While none of the hiking trails enter the 1,500-acre bison unit, visitors can view them from the roadside (best to bring binoculars in case they’re not feeling social). 

Today, Nachusa is now one of the largest and most biologically diverse grasslands in Illinois. It took considerable effort to become so, and the work is ongoing. Volunteers must carefully collect and plant seeds, manage invasive species, and conduct controlled burns to protect this restored ecosystem. 

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