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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 8, 2001

Governor Ryan Announces Acquisition of Critical Buffer for Wolf Road Prairie

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced the state has acquired 16 acres of critical buffer lands for Wolf Road Prairie in suburban Westchester, the largest and highest quality black soil prairie remaining in Illinois, and one of the largest and highest quality east of the Mississippi River.

"Wolf Road Prairie is one of the best examples of original prairie in the Midwest. Original prairielands are disappearing in Illinois. More than 99 percent of them are gone," the Governor said. "We must do what we can to preserve what little remains."

The state paid $4.5 million for the property with Open Land Trust and Natural Areas Acquisition funds, dollars intended to preserve open space. The acquisition increases the size of the protected area to about 104 acres, nearly 70 acres of which are dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve.

"These initiatives are accomplishing their goal -- to preserve dwindling open space for our children, grandchildren and the generations that follow," Ryan said. "We should continue to preserve our heritage and protect Illinois' natural treasures."

Wolf Road Prairie contains several natural communities, including mesic prairie, marsh and savanna and is home to more than 400 plant species. The buffer area acquired today, on the prairie's western edge, will help protect the preserve from neighboring development and further protect the watershed in which the prairie is located.

The prairie is owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Cook County Forest Preserve District and the Save the Prairie Society.

The Governor applauded the team effort and strong interest in saving the prairie that made the acquisition of this buffer area possible.

"We have precious little open space in this densely populated area, I am glad we have the opportunity not only to preserve the prairieland, but also for this area of the state to take advantage of state funds for this purpose," said Sen. Thomas J. Walsh, R-LaGrange Park, whose district includes Wolf Road Prairie. "Many years ago the state made a commitment to preserve open space and limit congestion. I am glad the Governor has chosen to act quickly on the land at 31st Street and Wolf Road. This area will serve as a buffer, protecting our open land and serving as an educational reminder of the effects and benefits of prairieland."

"I'm delighted that the state has been able to buy this property and is strengthening its commitment to Wolf Road Prairie," echoed Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who previously represented the area in the Senate and has been a strong supporter of the prairie for years.

Valerie Spale, Executive Director of the Save the Prairie Society, said "We are ecstatic and delighted the Governor is acquiring this strategic buffer. It is great news that the state is enlarging and protecting this area. The Society is ready to continue its partnership role and to assist the state in the continued enhancement and restoration at the prairie." The Save the Prairie Society has aided in management of the area, including brush cutting, exotic species control, herbiciding, prescribed burning, seed collecting, surveying wildlife and water quality monitoring.

"The Society has been a strong partner in efforts to restore and manage Wolf Road Prairie," said Department of Natural Resources Director Brent Manning. "Its commitment has brought a dramatic rejuvenation of the prairie."

The prairie was subdivided into nearly 600 lots for housing and commercial development in the 1920s. Although roads were graded and sidewalks were laid through part of the tract, the project failed during the Great Depression before water and sewer lines were installed. The land remained vacant and never was developed because utilities were lacking, ownership was fragmented and changes in zoning would not allow buildings on the small individual lots. Little by little the state and its partners have acquired and cared for the prairie, providing the necessary management so it could thrive in this densely developed area of northeastern Illinois.


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