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NACHUSA GRASSLANDS - 2016 UNIT OF HONOR

Nachusa Grasslands is 2016 Unit of Honor. A 3,500-acre nature preserve south of Oregon has been named the 2016 Unit of Honor for the Harvest Time Parade on Sunday, Oct. 2.

The Nachusa Grasslands, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, will be recognized during the Autumn on Parade festival. Cody Considine, restoration ecologist at the Grasslands, said the staff is pleased.

"We're delighted and honored for the community to think of us on our 30 years of preserving nature here," he said.

Started in 1986, with the purchase of 250 acres of partially over-grazed pastures, the Nachusa Grasslands has grown to be home to more than 700 native prairie plant species as well as many important birds, insects, and reptiles.

"We've come a long way," said Considine.

Owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Grasslands is located on Lowden Road nine miles south of Oregon on the Ogle-Lee County line.

It has been restored as a native prairie largely through the efforts of volunteers who remove non-native plants and gather and sow the seeds of desirable wildflowers, bushes, and grasses.

Over the years, The Nature Conservancy has gradually recreated a vision of 1800 when Illinois was a mosaic of prairie, savanna and wetlands.

A huge restoration step was taken in the fall of 2014 with the reintroduction of bison, the official mammal of the United States. With new calves born each spring, the bison herd at the Grasslands is growing and is instrumental in helping to restore the prairie. Since then, officials have been studying the large mammals' effect on the prairie.

They have seen a positive impact on how the bison’s grazing techniques are helping native grasses and all the other other birds, amphibians, bugs, and mammals that live on the prairie.

Grasslands volunteers who have spent hundreds of hours pulling invasive plants, collecting prairie plants seeds, burning, and replanting are now seeing where some prairie plants are doing better based on the bison’s selective eating habits.

Bison hair has also been used as nesting material for birds and small animals.

Twenty-eight grazing exclosures, designed to keep the bison out, dot the 1,500 bison unit helping scientists to monitor the bison’s impact on the prairie.

Bison were reintroduced to the Grasslands when Considine and Bill Kleiman, preserve manager, and Grasslands volunteers, made three trips totaling nearly 3,500 miles to transport cows and bulls from established herds in Iowa and South Dakota to the Grasslands.

The Grasslands' herd is the first to live at a TNC preserve east of the Mississippi and also the first conservation herd in Illinois—with a primary purpose of helping the prairie thrive.

The bison, and their calves, have also meant an increase in visitors driving by Grasslands, to catch a glimpse of the herd.

The Grasslands kiosk, located on Lowden Road, offers maps of the Grasslands including where the bison are located.

Sometimes the herd can be seen grazing on the west side of Lowden Road or from the north side of Stone Barn Road or south from Flagg Road.

A new bison underpass was constructed in 2015 that allows the bison to walk under Stone Barn Road to the new southern unit, which increased the bison habitat from 500 acres to 1,500.

Plans are underway to build a $1 million self-guided interpretive visitor facility along Lowden Road, south of the Grasslands headquarters barn, where visitors can learn about the prairie and, of course, the bison.

The headquarters is the Stewards Barn, a bank barn built in the 1860s near Ashton and then dismantled and rebuilt at the grasslands. The Grasslands hosts Autumn on the Prairie on the third Saturday in September each year.

The event features various booths, demonstrations, tours of the Grasslands and barn, crafts and food.

To reach Nachusa Grasslands, take Daysville Road south from Oregon, then turn onto Lowden Road and continue south approximately six miles. Watch for the signs.

The preserve is open to the public every day from dawn to dusk.

For more information, visit www.nachusagrasslands.org.