| Story by Meghan McMahon |
Illinois may be the Prairie State, but much of our prairie has disappeared, plowed and paved over for farm fields and development. However, scattered here and there across Will County are some increasingly rare prairie remnants, including preserves like Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve.
The 320-acre Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve was acquired by the Forest Preserve District in 2011 and 2015. It is part of the Des Plaines River preservation system, which conserves more than 2,400 acres. The site was dedicated as a nature prairie by the state in 1983 because of its unique prairie character, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
What makes Lockport Prairie unique among our remaining grasslands is that it is a dolomite prairie. In a dolomite prairie, the layer of glacial debris is thin, which allows the dolomite bedrock to be at or near the soil surface, reports the IDNR. The soils in dolomite prairies typically have a high magnesium content, and as a result they are often home to plants that don’t grow in other places.
Because Lockport Prairie is a dolomite prairie versus the more traditional tallgrass prairies we see in Illinois, it features some interesting plant diversity, said Jen Guest, recreation coordinator for the Forest Preserve District. Included among the flora at the preserve are several rare and endangered plant species in the state.
“The plants that grow there have to be hardy enough to grow with minimal soil because the limestone is at or near the surface, leaving little space for soil,” Guest said. “You get to see some plants that can only grow in this environment or are stunted in size because they can’t grow as tall with a lack of deep soil.”