Grant will help park district restore rare native prairie

Project will build trails, observation areas and shelter

By Nikki Holstein

A $200,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will help the Oak Lawn Park District’s efforts to restore the Chicago Ridge Prairie.

The district plans to use the funds for a project intended to re-establish five acres at the site, establish interpretive facilities, and manage a seven-acre of “high quality” portion of the prairie, 105th Street and Menard Avenue, according to Oak Lawn Park District Superintendent Joel Craig said. The Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant is a matching grant, meaning the park district will spend $200,000 of its own money on the project. Work is expected to be completed by next year.

The five acres to be restored were adulterated many years ago by the construction of nearby apartment and condominium buildings, according to park district officials. The park district’s goal is to remove all of which was not original prairie and get the land down to the original elevation of the prairie, which will allow seeds of native plants to germinate.

The other seven acres of the 12.8-acre property are in pristine condition and have not been touched or cultivated, Craig said.

The park district purchased the land in 1994 from a land developer in an effort to save what remained of what was once a 29-acre prairie, Craig said. The site has suffered a large acreage decrease due to the building of apartments and condominiums near the grounds, he explained.

“There is less than 1 percent of prairieland left and we want to protect these last remnants,” Craig said. “Approximately five acres of the prairie were negatively impacted by fly dumping from nearby development prior to acquisition. It is the desire of the park district to restore the [site] to the original prairie-wetland condition.”

The planned interpretive facilities will consist of an outdoor educational area featuring trails, a shelter, viewing platforms and observation decks, and interactive kiosks.

“We also want to allow for controlled public access while providing an educational experience of different wetland habitats and plant communities,” Craig said.

The Chicago Ridge Prairie is one of the last remaining gravelbased, tall grass prairies in Il-linois, Craig said. It is home to many rare plants and animals including the threatened white lady slipper orchid and several rare species of insects.

“The greatest development for this project will be to give people the opportunity to go into restricted nature without endangering plants and to further their appreciation of the intricacies of rare plants, fauna, and wildlife,” Craig said.