Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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

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 Illinois prairies.

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 too late.

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