Pope Prairie is a 9-acre tract of land located in Champaign County, Illinois that is reverting to native prairie. It lies between the Illinois Central Railroad right of way on the west and U.S. Route 45 on the east, just north of the city of Rantoul. County Road 3200 N borders the site to the north, and the Maplewood Cemetery lies to the south. The land was previously owned by the Pope family and was used to display advertising billboards along Route 45 at a bend in the road before Interstate 57 was constructed. The land contains the remnants of an old gravel pit used for road making purposes. Prairie habitat development at Pope Prairie is being carried out by the Pope Prairie Preservationists and the Friends of Pope Prairie. Our mission is to teach people to know and appreciate their prairie heritage.

Pope Prairie summer landscape Compass plants and liatris at Pope Prairie

The Pope Prairie site has been disturbed (by gravel mining) and cannot grow successful crops. Prairie plants, on the other hand, can grow and survive on raw glacial till. A little of the original soil and prairie remains around the periphery of the site. The gravel pit glacial till was used for road making for many years, but the site has probably been closed for gravel purposes for over 70 years. Up to eight feet of gravel has been removed from most of the site. Since abandonment, the gravel pit prairie plants have been growing back from the periphery and from nearby rail-side and roadside prairie remnants. The site is not pristine, but it is a reasonable facsimile of a native prairie, and we have very few such sites remaining in Champaign County. Already, the prairie species have been recreating prairie soil. They do so by pioneering a site and generating enough biological matter to attract additional seedlings until a regrowth succession clump is established and soil is created. There is a small stream that drains water from the moraine above that provides a range of habitats.

Pope Prairie is a valuable teaching site, as well as a preservation site. The prairie relates to a wet outwash plain triangle to the south of the cemetery and to a dry spectrum prairie on the crest of the moraine to the north.

We have had to protect the site and manage it in such a way that off-road vehicles do not destroy it. One wheely event on a wet day can set preservation back 50 years. Signs are essential. We are hoping to receive support from the public in this endeavor. We may also need to fence the area because it is vulnerable to dumping.

Look up the face of the moraine and imagine a woolly mammoth roaming on perhaps as little as four feet of remaining melting ice of continental glaciation, with melt water dribbling down the face of the moraine into the swampland below. Think also of a native American spearing a mammoth and of researchers finding mammoth bones with spear marks in them.