Midewin

by Carl Strang

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is a former military base that has been nearly all transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. A few remaining parcels are being cleared of old munitions and other hazards, and ultimately will be added to the Forest Service site. The historical connection between the Forest Service and the great conservationist, wildlife biologist and wilderness advocate Aldo Leopold has led to a number of interpretive efforts celebrating Leopold’s life and accomplishments. They worked with the Aldo Leopold Foundation to produce a documentary film, Green Fire, and Midewin educator Wendy Tresouthick asked me to give a first person interpretive presentation as Leopold, who died in 1948. At some point I will elaborate on that, but for today I want to share some images and impressions of the site. Thinking that if Leopold had come down to give a talk he would have wanted to see the site, I asked for a tour of Midewin’s restoration effort, and it was my good fortune to be taken around by Bill Glass, Midewin staff ecologist.

Bill Glass, standing in one of his favorite restored areas.

Midewin is huge, a 20,000 acre property, and has not been under Forest Service management for many years, so only about a tenth of it is being actively restored so far. Its history as a munitions storage site still is evident in the now empty bunkers, widely spaced so that if one went up it wouldn’t trigger others to explode.

Ammunition storage bunker.

The bunkers gradually are being removed, but they were solidly built and so their demolition is expensive and the process has to be gradual.

If you study this photo closely you will see a large number of bunkers dimpling the landscape. In the foreground is the top of a gravelly ridge, which provides some significant ecological relief to a largely flat and often wet outwash plain.

In the meantime, the bunkers provide nice, elevated vantage points for surveying the landscape.

A large area has been seeded, planted with plugs, and placed into various regimes of mowing and burning. There are prairies and wetlands covering an impressive range of types.

There is even a federally endangered plant on the site, the leafy prairie clover (Petalostemum foliosum, in the same genus as the familiar white and purple prairie clovers). The bunkers also provide elevated bedding sites for some of the local white-tailed deer.

A deer bed is in the foreground, at the lip of the bunker’s steep side.

I am looking forward to getting back there in the summer to do some singing insect survey work.

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