“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.