Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

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Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie was established February 10, 1996 as the country’s first federally designated tallgrass prairie. The legislation that created Midewin provided for the transfer of 19,165 acres of land at the Joliet Arsenal site from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service and the restoration of these lands to the eastern tallgrass prairie that existed at the site prior to European settlement. Midewin is currently the largest prairie restoration project east of the Mississippi.
Midewin contains a wide diversity of habitats, including: groves, savannas, streams, and many of the prairie types found in the state of Illinois. The landscape scale of prairie restoration at Midewin may permit the reintroduction of large herbivores, such as elk and bison. The size of the site also reduces the effects of grassland habitat fragmentation in the region, which has caused the decline of many bird populations.

The Joliet Army Ammunition Plant produced ammunitions and explosives, primarily TNT. The plant was active between 1940 and 1976, with peak production of TNT during World War II, when 5.5 million tons of TNT were produced per week (Gray, 1996). Munitions were also produced during the Korean War from 1952-1957, and during the Vietnam War. By the late 1970’s the site was largely inactive, with no further production of munitions. During periods of inactivity, the land at the site was leased out to farmers who grew hay, other crops, and pastured their cattle. Portions of the site are still used for agricultural purposes today, but those that are incompatible with the ongoing restoration will be phased out over the next 20 years.


Midewin NTP location
Midewin NTP in Red


The Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie presents society with a unique opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to the preservation and maintenance of our natural ecosystems. The initiation of such a large and challenging endeavor demonstrates a faith in the recuperative powers of the environment and a confidence in the ability of scientists, volunteers, land managers, and other supporters of the project to implement an effective restoration plan. The restoration at Midewin will require many years of hard work by dedicated scientists and volunteers. The land must be healed from decades of use that degraded natural ecosystem composition, structure, and function. Major elements of tallgrass prairie are still present at the site, but non-native elements are widespread. The native components of the prairie require nurturing, so that the prairie may once again return to its pre-European grandeur. The site name, Midewin, is an appropriate expression of these sentiments and ideas.

Panorama at Midewin NTP
(taken on August afternoon)

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Illinois State Museum State of Illinois IDNR Search, Last modified September 1st 2011, 03:13PM.