Nachusa Grasslands

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”

Nachusa Grasslands Nature Preserve — a beacon of beauty and biodiversity

These oft-quoted words of Daniel Burnham — architect, urban planner, visonary for the World’s Columbian Exhibition, chief author of the Plan of Chicago, commonly known as the Burnham Plan — apply perfectly to George Fell.

My biography of George Fell recounts his extraordinary efforts to launch both The Nature Conservancy and the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission

Fell made no little plans. He aimed high in transforming a loose band of academics into The Nature Conservancy, now the largest conservation organization in the world. He was insistent in establishing the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, which in turn sparked nearly every other state in the nation to establish similar ways of protecting the remnants of our biological heritage.

Perhaps the best place to experience where Fell’s big, realized plans come together most inspiringly is at Nachusa Grasslands Nature Preserve.

One of several species of coreopsis you’ll find blooming in the recovering prairie lands of Nachusa

Among Fell’s many strengths was his ability to lay out a “logical diagram” for his big plans. No mere dreamer, he painstakingly put into place The Nature Conservancy’s operational infrastructure, including its vaunted chapter system.

The spiky white flowers of rattlesnake master poke at the puffball clouds on a hot summer day at Nachusa

Among the first chapters to be established was the one in his home state. Fell played an active role in the early days of the Illinois Chapter, serving as board treasurer and personally negotiating its first acquisition — Volo Bog. Much later, as executive director of the Natural Land Institute, Fell helped TNC acquire the first 115 acres of remnant prairie near Franklin Grove, IL, which today anchor Nachusa Grasslands.

The heliocentric blossoms of compass plant doing what sunflowers do — turn their faces toward the sun

In 2013, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission dedicated the 1,000-acre core unit of Nachusa as an Illinois Nature Preserve. It’s hard to say which of the 400+ Illinois Nature Preserves is the best, but by several measures Nachusa has to be near the top of the list. In addition to the fact that it is among the largest restored grasslands in the entire state, a small army of passionate volunteers has helped to ensure that its prairies, oak savannas, woodlands and wetlands are exceptionally well stewarded.

Spying lots of Culver’s root put by wife and me in mind of the root beer floats we were going to order at the first Culver’s Frozen Custard joint we found on the way home after a hot, humid day on the prairie

Nachusa harbors more than 700 native plant species and hosts 180 different kinds of birds. Although several other Illinois Nature Preserves boast equally rich biodiversity, Nachusa is the only one that has bison. Only at Nachusa can you experience the beauty, the blood-stirring magic that is The Nature Conservancy, the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission, and a growing herd of Bison bison, America’s national mammal.

Look closely — on the left is a sign warning about Nachusa’s wild bison and on the right is the familiar white triangle sign letting folks know that they are looking at a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve

Thanks, George, for aiming high and realizing your big, beautiful plans. Thanks to all those who build upon what George accomplished and stagger us with their own big plans and achievements.

Since bison were reintroduced to Nachusa in 2014, the herd has grown from 30 to 100
The new visitor center pavilion provides a little shade and a lot of terrific information about the history, the beauty and the biodiversity of Nachusa

3 thoughts on “Nachusa Grasslands”

  1. I visited Nachusa yesterday. I am very excited about the restoration progress being made. I did not see any bison, but saw several regal fritillaries and one meadow fritillary, which was new for me. I love Nachusa!

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