A Prairie State Park
Nature Bulletin No. 104 February 2, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
A PRAIRIE STATE PARK
Illinois is the Prairie State. In 1830, about 60 percent of its area was
grassland ablaze with color from spring until late fall. On the wet
prairies the big bluestem and other grasses, and the flowering plants,
grew to the shoulders of a man on horseback. There, and in the upland
"little bluestem" prairies, were successions of flowering plants
providing magnificent vistas of colors that changed, month by month,
from the delicate greens, yellows, blues and pinks of May to the broad
horizontal bands of purple and gold in October.
Then came the invention of the steel moldboard plow -- the only
implement that could cut and turn over the thick tough prairie sod,
thousands of years old. Illinois became the heart of the Corn Belt.
Today only 9 percent of its area is grassland and only a few remnants of
its lovely prairies remain.
On the south bank of the Kankakee River, from Wilmington to
Kankakee, runs state highway Route 113-S. Six miles south of
Wilmington, at the Wabash R. R. crossing, is the hamlet of Custer Park.
Two miles farther southeast, on the same highway, begins an area that
should be purchased and preserved as a state park typical of the original
Roughly 3/4 mile wide, this area extends 4 miles due south from the
river, half of it in Will County and half in Kankakee County, and
includes approximately 2000 acres. There are a few farm dwellings and
some land under cultivation or pasture, but most of it is wild land.
There is a small creek angling across the north half. There are several
wooded knolls, many sloughs and marshes, bleak sand dunes, upland
prairies and wet prairies. There are various types of soil and all the
various types of prairie plants. We have walked over this tract with
eminent botanists at different seasons of the year. Its beauty defies
description. A list of the species of native prairie plants, some of them
very rare today, most of them in quantities that provide great masses of
color and texture, would require many pages.
Illinois, of all states, should have a prairie state park, now, before it is
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Update: June 2012