History

Pope Prairie is located in East Central Illinois, just north of Rantoul. It lies between the Illinois Central Railroad right of way on the west and U.S. Route 45 on the east. County Road 3200 N borders the site to the north, and the Maplewood Cemetery lies to the south. Route 45 bends east around the cemetery at the site. In the 1920's, the site was bought by the Pope family, which owned the C-U Sign Company. The C-U Sign Company owned most of the local advertising billboards, and it took advantage of the visual opportunity the site provided to erect advertising billboards here when Route 45 was the highway to Chicago. When Interstate 57 was built on the other side of Rantoul instead of continuing a dual highway north on Route 45, the advertising advantage disappeared, and the Pope family decided to sell the land. The triangular area behind the roadsize billboards was mined for gravel, and that is the site bought for prairie restoration. The Pope family sold the C-U Sign Company to a multinational "Adams" Sign Company, and we have continuing debates with them about mowing the prairie. They tend to put advertising signs for United Way and community action at this location.

Compass plants at periphery of Pope Prairie

North Right-of-Way Remnant

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) was left with the second leg of the intended dual highway to Chicago, which is located just west of Pope Prairie. IDOT planted trees on this north right-of-way remnant, mostly ash trees. The ash trees are succumbing to the invading Emerald Ash Borer, and the prairie is beginning to grow again in relatively undisturbed prairie soil as the ash trees die. IDOT is aware of the value of the site and in the past, has burned its prairie sites, but the lack of funds may limit support.

Prairie

The prairie that is growing on the right-of-way remnant is taking advantage of the lack of shading as the trees die. Prairie is also growing on the embankment of the existing Route 45. We are trying to keep the plants at Pope Prairie true to the site as far as we can assess it from these adjacent rail-side and roadside prairie remnants. We do not add exotic prairie species, but we do Johny Appleseed from the adjacent sites. We have been informally stewarding the site for many years.

Weeds

We are not free of weeds. Most farm plants and farm weeds cannot grow in glacial till because till is not an ideal site for plants that have become used to growing in a soft, moist, and fertilized agronomic place. Nevertheless, there are a few weeds that can grow on disturbed glaciated sites. Teasel (a popular cemetery dried arrangement) has spread from the cemetery, and it grows profusely on a disturbed area where the growing of farm crops has been attempted. Volunteers have been removing the fruiting bodies with machetes and, in some cases, herbiciding the plants.

Regrowth Succession

Although removal of gravel disrupted the existing plant life of the natural habitat, prairie plants from the periphery of the site have been filling in the disturbed area. Already, islands of new soil have been formed. The prairie will mature over the years. This process is called regrowth succession.