Prairieland splendor at Nachusa Grasslands
Located about 10 miles south of Oregon, near the Lee County village of Franklin Grove, you can wander a rolling landscape consisting of a mosaic of 11 natural community types, including dry prairie, tallgrass prairie, bur oak savanna, sand savanna, fen, sedge meadow, and streamside marsh. You’ll hear the songs of at least 90 species of breeding birds and you’ll delight in the many colors and hues of the prairie landscape. Nachusa is also home to a herd of free-roaming American bison, reintroduced to the Illinois prairie in 2014.
Owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, Nachusa Grasslands is one of the largest prairies in the state, and it continues to be an important outreach and training site for other public and private land managers. It serves as a living model for a variety of land management techniques, including controlled burns, seed collecting, weed management and natural areas restoration.
Much of the ecological restoration work at Nachusa is accomplished with the help of a growing volunteer group that is actively helping to manage Nachusa. Volunteers participate in many activities including the gathering and sowing of rare prairie and savanna seed, monitoring of breeding bird populations, and conducting public educational activities. Volunteers also hold an annual prairie festival at Nachusa, “Autumn on the Prairie,” which draws several hundred people each year.
Upland sandpipers migrate all the way from the Pampas of Argentina to nest at Nachusa Grasslands, while Grasshopper sparrows, dickcissels and Henslow’s sparrows can be seen perched in the colorful prairie grasses. Badgers and other “Prairie State” wildlife that need a lot of space abound at Nachusa Grasslands. And, one of the world’s largest populations of federally threatened prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya) has managed to survive here. Four other plant species at Nachusa are candidates for federal listing: fame flower (Talinum rugospermum), Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii), kittentails (Besseya bullii), and forked aster (Aster furcatus). Many other plants that are rare in Illinois survive at Nachusa such as downy yellow painted cup and prairie lion’s tooth. Many uncommon or rare animals survive at Nachusa, such as Blanding’s turtles. And one day, when this preserve is larger, bison may roam here again. In all, Nachusa is home to 600 native plant species and 180 species of birds.
Nachusa Grasslands is open to the public for hiking, bird-watching, and other activities that do not harm the natural landscape. The grasslands are in bloom from April through October, but the ruddy color of little bluestem grass in winter makes Nachusa’s rolling landscape beautiful year round. Interpretive brochures to guide you to areas of particular interest can be found at the main entrance to the preserve in the large mailbox. There is a lot to see, so come dressed for adventure. The Conservancy suggests you wear long pants and carry water, a snack and sun protection. Currently, no bathrooms are available.
From Oregon, go east on Route 64 to Daysville Road which is just past the Rock River on your way out of Oregon. Turn south onto Daysville Road. After 2.5 miles, the road splits, with Daysville Road jogging to the left and Lowden Road leading off diagonally to the right. Take Lowden Road. The preserve will be on your right (west) about 1/2 mile south of Stone Barn Road. There is a large wooden sign which marks the main entrance.
From Rochelle, take 251 north to Flagg Road. Turn west onto Flagg Road and continue approximately 16 miles west to Lowden Road. Turn south onto Lowden Road and continue past Stone Barn Road. The preserve will be on your right.