Prairie Autumn

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Sherburne is only one of many lovely prairie sites. Two more notable prairie preserves are profiled briefly below.

Neal Smith NWR and Prairie Learning Center
A short hop from Des Moines, Iowa, this 8,000-acre preserve is engaged in prairie and prairie-oak savanna restoration on an unprecedented scale. The ongoing work, much of it carried out by volunteers, is paying tremendous dividends. More than 2,000 acres of former farmland have been restored to a native mix of tallgrasses and wildflowers, and several surviving prairie remnants have been restored to their natural productivity. There is almost always some very interesting restoration project or study in progress here. Restoration wouldn't be complete without two of the ancient tallgrass prairie's marquee residents: bison and elk. Small herds of both grazers are here, and may (or may not) be seen from the refuge auto tour, roaming their sizable enclosure.

The real fun at Neal Smith is rolling up one's sleeves and getting dirty. The second Saturday of every month is “work day,” and visitors from near and far show up to plant seeds, cut brush, collect wildflower seeds, and do other chores that benefit prairie restoration. It's a great “working vacation,” with friends and families getting together for work and socializing.

More on Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Chiwaukee Prairie
Comparatively small at approximately 200 acres, the Chiwaukee Prairie in southeastern Wisconsin is a vigorous, almost completely intact tallgrass biome, with more than 400 species of native plants.

A short drive from either Chicago or Milwaukee, this site adjoins the Lake Michigan shoreline; there's always a breeze, and the terrain rolls along in a series of high ridges and lower, wet areas. In fall, wildflowers such as blazing star, gentian, asters, and goldenrod are in bloom; within each of these categories are several species. The grasses, too, such as little bluestem, are colorful and lovely to behold. Most grassland birds have departed, though wetland species such as king rails and marsh wrens are probably still present. A walk down to Lake Michigan will provide opportunities for seeing shorebirds, waterfowl, and several gull species.

Chiwaukee is located between the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the Illinois state line. It's open year-round to walking and exploration on foot. The Nature Conservancy, which manages the site, encourages people to visit and experience its beauty in every season. For more information contact The Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin at (608) 251-8140.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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