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Restoration Started by Volunteers Reaches Next Stage in Somme Prairie Nature Preserve

prairie plants at Somme Prairie
Photo by Diana Krug.

Tucked away among Cook County’s northeastern forest preserves is an example of what an Illinois prairie looked like millennia ago. Somme Prairie Nature Preserve, home to a small remnant of original prairie, is host to an incredible diversity of prairie plants and insects, including species on federal and state threatened and endangered lists. After decades of dedicated volunteer stewardship, the site is now undergoing an expanded 21-acre grant-funded restoration project.

“Since the 1970s, volunteers recognized the value of Somme Prairie,” explains Troy Showerman, resource project manager for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “Originally, Somme Prairie had tiny pockets of remnant prairie, while the rest of the site was covered with trees and brush. North Branch Restoration Project volunteers have been cutting brush to expand the prairie opening, and in the last 10 years, there has been a more concerted effort by Forest Preserve staff and contractors to continue the prairie expansion.”

The restoration work, supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service through the Great Lakes Coastal Program and matched by the Forest Preserves, includes clearing brush, removing trees, and planting seeds to restore native prairie habitat. The work began this winter, starting with brush removal. In winter 2019/2020, contractors will remove the remaining trees. Volunteers will follow with native seed planting, helping return the land to a thriving prairie habitat. The project is scheduled for completion in fall 2021.

“This project is an excellent example of volunteers truly transforming a site. What began as a grassroots effort to save the prairie has now resulted in dedicated federal dollars. The North Branch Restoration Project volunteers made slow and steady progress at Somme Prairie, and brought the site to a point where the Forest Preserves is able to come in with contractors to help take restoration to the next level,” says Showerman.

This restoration project aligns with the Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan’s goal of restoring 30,000 acres of forest preserve to good ecological health and the prioritization scheme of our Natural and Cultural Resources Master Plan, which names the Somme Complex as the sixth-highest priority site within the Forest Preserves.

Interested in volunteering? Click here to learn more about upcoming workdays.