The 80 acre Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve is co-owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC). The Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) oversees management and protection of the site. STPS owns the property upon which the historic Franzosenbusch Prairie House is located and a five acre parcel on Hickory Lane which is being preserved as buffer to Wolf Road Prairie.
Public land acquisition at Wolf Road Prairie began in 1980, but it was not until the early 1990’s that the entire site was jointly acquired and protected by IDNR and FPDCC. Prior to public acquisition, STPS owned scattered holdings within Wolf Road Prairie which we later sold to IDNR and FPDCC.
Wolf Road Prairie was subdivided into nearly 600 lots for housing and commercial development in the l920’s. Although sidewalks were laid in the south 40 acres of the preserve, the project failed during the Great Depression of 1929. Water and sewer lines were never installed, and the prairie remained largely undisturbed to the present day. Private ownership was fragmented and changes in Westchester zoning requirements did not allow for construction on the small city-size lots. Little by little the state and county acquired land in the prairie, sometimes one lot at a time.
Wolf Road Prairie contains several native communities, including mesic prairie, mesic savanna and wetland and is home to more than 360 native plant species. The numbers of resident and migratory birds, amphibians, insects, butterflies and mammals are too numerous to count. Combined, the ecosystem features of the site create a one-of-a-kind natural area unlike any other in the world. The prairie remnant at Wolf Road Prairie is considered the largest and best quality black soil or mesic prairie east of the Mississippi River. The prairie is considered globally imperiled and the black soil savanna is considered globally critically imperiled according to the Chicago Wilderness Biodiversity Recovery Plan. The wetland on site is considered of high aquatic quality.
Following acquisition of land in Wolf Road Prairie by IDNR and FPDCC, experts recommended that buffer be acquired to protect the biodiversity and watershed of the site. As a result, the FPDCC acquired a three acre buffer property adjoining the prairie’s western border in the early l990’s from STPS . Proceeds from this sale were reinvested in the purchase of our five acre buffer property known as 10 Hickory Lane. The 60 acre Hickory Lane area has been identified by the FPDCC as an area of land acquisition opportunity in their Land Acquisition Plan and represents the only sizeable open land with ecosystem values left to preserve in western Cook County. The IDNR also identified the critical nature of protecting bufferland at Wolf Road Prairie.
In January 2001, IDNR acquired three five acre buffer properties with Open Land Trust and Natural Areas Acquisition funds, dollars intended to preserve open space. These buffer properties adjoin the prairie’s western edge and help protect biodiversity and the watershed at the preserve. One property is the site of a portion of the Middle Fork stream corridor and another property contains an ephemeral pond. For the past 60 years, Hickory Lane has been maintained as an estate community with 12 homesites on large lots with stands of pre-settlement oak trees and abundant open space. Acquisition of Hickory Lane properties by IDNR, FPDCC and STPS is preserving the character of this land and its ecosystem function as buffer to Wolf Road Prairie.
Recently, the FPDCC vacated streets and alleys in Wolf Road Prairie contiguous to their holdings, including Forest Avenue, proposed as an access road by the Village of Westchester for development of ten acres of bufferland on Hickory Lane. This project proposes to construct 26 homesites on two five acre properties currently the site of one residence per five acre property. Forest Avenue was one of the streets platted in Wolf Road Prairie back in the 1920’s but was never constructed. This land area has been managed as part of Wolf Road Prairie by volunteers and professionals for several years and contains plants and wildlife indigenous to the preserve.
In February 2001, the FPDCC received a LAWCON grant for the purpose of acquiring three five acre parcels on Hickory Lane as buffer to Wolf Road Prairie. In October 2007, the District acquired two 5 acre buffer properties on Hickory Lane. The third five acre buffer property identified by the District for acquisition is in condemnation.
Just 15 miles west of the Chicago Loop and accessible by major expressways, highways and roads, Wolf Road Prairie is a world renowned tourist destination attracting visitors to its magnificent wilderness landscape, diverse wildlife and natural and human history. Wolf Road Prairie and the Prairie House generate tourist revenue as a local economic engine, and a scientific and education resource for nature study, and cultural programs and events. Wolf Road Prairie combines the preservation of land and nature in the urbanized Chicagoland region and as an Urban Eco-Site is comparable to ecotourism sites around the world. Because of these features and values, it is the belief of STPS that efforts must continue to preserve and protect Wolf Road Prairie and bufferlands as open space and wildlife habitat for the greater public benefit.