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More restoration planned for Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

Flowers at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. | Dale Bowman / Sun-Times

More restoration efforts are planned at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie just outside of Joliet as the site plays host to researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame working on archaeological excavations.

The excavations are part of a seven-year restoration of 1,800 acres on the prairie’s west side, which will be connected with a larger piece of the park that already hs been restored so that wildlife can thrive there.

The prairie’s 20,000 acres are the first tallgrass prairie established in the United States and the home, as of last fall, to more than three dozen bison.

“This does not exist anywhere else,” says Gary Sullivan, senior ecologist at The Wetlands Initiative, which has teamed with with U.S. Forest Service at Midewin on the land’s restoration, along with the National Forest Foundation. “The extensive native plants in all areas create a mosaic. It will take a while to get it where we want it, but we will restore about 600 species when finished to bring conditions back to support wildlife.”

The excavations began Aug. 1 and ran through Friday. Work might continue next year, depending on the results, which could offer a glimpse of what life was like on the prairie during prehistoric time.

Midewin archaeologist Joe Wheeler is monitoring the work and the terms of the ARPA permit issued by the U.S. Forest Service. He says that when he started at Midewin in 2013, he began looking for sites for academic investigations. He found an 8.8-acre area, known as the Grant Creek Site, held great research potential.

“Though the Grant Creek Site dates to about 400 years ago, other nearby Native American sites date back to over 2,500 years ago, and there is evidence of people on Midewin dating back to about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago, so the land has been used and people have lived on it almost since the dawn of people in the Midwest,” Wheeler says.