A History of GPF
Grand Prairie Friends of Illinois (GPF-) is a non-profit organization composed of people from many walks of life. These volunteers share a commitment to preserving and restoring tallgrass prairie in East-Central Illinois. GPF hopes to preserve prairie by:
- Acquiring and managing high quality prairie remnants.
- Propagating and planting local prairie plant species in prairie reconstructions.
- Entering into prairie restoration partnerships with other conservation organizations.
- Generating interest in prairie through educational and local community programs.
In 2007 GPF members created and adopted a mission statement for the organization: to preserve and restore natural communities in east-central Illinois and promote an understanding and appreciation of natural resources.
GPF was formed in 1984, when a group of citizens joined together with a commitment to preserve and restore tallgrass prairie in East-Central Illinois. That year GPF purchased the Shortline Railroad Prairie, 6-acres of prairie along an abandoned railroad right-of-way in Champaign County. Shortline contains a 1 mile trail that is open for walking and nature observation.
In 1990, GPF purchased 10.5 acres of high quality sand prairie and pond north of Watseka in Iroquois County, naming it Bonnie's Prairie. The prairie contains a variety of plants common to sand prairies including little bluestem, panic grass, hairy puccoon, goat's rue, and sand milkweed, while the sand pond is brimming with wetland plants such as cordgrass, fowl manna grass, small-flowered water plantain, pickerel weed, burreed, and yellow pond lily. Bonnie's prairie was dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve in 1992.
GPF purchased the remaining one acre of pioneer cemetery at Fairchild Cemetery Savanna Nature Preserve in 2003. One-half acre of the cemetery was owned by the Vermilion County Conservation District, and it was deeded to GPF by VCCD in 2004. The whole cemetery is now owned and managed as an Illinois nature preserve by Grand Prairie Friends.
Land acquisition projects also include three pieces of donated property. In 2001, Frieda Ems of Urbana donated 1.7 acres of land between St. Joseph and Ogden, IL. This site is old-field squeezed between a row-crop agricultural field and I-74. Future plans for the site include prairie restoration and a prairie propagation garden. Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve was deeded to GPF from The Nature Conservancy in 2004. GPF has been instrumental in the management of this site since dedication and protection as an Illinois Nature Preserve in the early 80s. James Nance Woods was donated to GPF in 2004. The Nance family owned this 14-acre woodland; Jim and Jean Nance were some of the founding members of GPF.
In 2007 we took on our biggest land acquisition project to date: raise $40,000 to buy about nine acres of land around Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve. With the help of many friends, we successfully raised the money plus a few dollars more to close the deal in November 2007. This new parcel situated in a horseshoe shape around three sides of the preserve will allow us to plant more prairie ensuring the long-term protection and maintenance of this extremely valuable piece of tallgrass prairie.
GPF took on an even bigger project in 2011: raise over $400,000 to buy 140 acres of high-quality forest in Coles County. This woodland on dissected terrain situated south of Charleston and north of Fox Ridge State Park and a stone's throw east of the Embarras River was in a prime spot for protection. The parcel is also adjacent to the 202 acre Warbler Woods Nature Preserve. With a herculean fund-raising efforts by GPF's Board and friends, the deal was closed in January 2012. Major funding came from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Grand Victoria Foundation Vital Lands Illinois, and the Lumpkin Family Foundation as well as over 100 individual donors with a commitment to preserve and protect this biologically diverse property.
GPF has partnered with the Champaign County Forest Preserve district on two projects: restoration of a 30-acre savanna and wetland at the Middle Fork Forest Preserve and Buffalo Trace Prairie. This ambitious prairie restoration project is within at 276 acre tract of land at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve in Mahomet, Illinois. Phil Hult, long-time GPF member, is the volunteer steward at this project.
GPF volunteers also organize and provide stewardship for about 30 natural prairie, savanna, forest and wetland remnants on public and private land around east-central Illinois. A typical example is Pellsville Cemetery - a one-acre pioneer cemetery filled with dense stands of big bluestem, switchgrass, and Indian grass, as well as once-common forbs as leadplant, prairie clover, downy gentian, cream wild indigo, and prairie phlox. At this site, we have an agreement that spells out the relationship and responsibilities between GPF and the owner, Butler Township. Management at sites like Pellsville Cemetery includes removal of invasive exotic plants and dormant season prescribed burns.
Restoration of prairie went slow at the nine acres purchased to expand Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve. It took us four years to plant nine acres. This was very intentional because we collected seed locally (i.e. within a 30 mile radius of Loda) and we planted heavy. It takes time to hand collect an appreciable amount of seed from a wide diversity of plant species. Volunteers and contractors collected seeds during the summer of 2007 and 2008, and we planted the first three and half acres in January of 2009. We continued to collect seeds each summer to plant on acre in early 2010, one acre in early 2011 and the last three and half acres in February of 2012. In all over 70 species were scattered by volunteers, and the results are amazing with a diversity of plants readily growing in the restored areas.
In the future, we will continue to protect other natural areas through purchase or easement.
Each year, GPF conducts field trips to local prairies. The group also sponsors lectures and workshops on such topics as propagation of prairie plants, landscape gardening with prairie plants, prairie wildlife, and origin of the prairie. Occasionally, GPF sponsors workshops to allow members to become certified for conducting prescribed burns.
Every four or five years, GPF sponsors and organizes the Central Illinois Prairie Conference which includes technical and non-technical presentations on prairie ecology, management, reconstruction, and culture. The last conference was held in September 2003 and included a wealth of knowledgeable speakers, a nice banquet, and several field trips to prairies throughout the region.
GPF has held day-long, hands-on workshops on prairie ecology and plant propagation for local teachers. Participants are given "prairie kits" to use in their classrooms. The workshops were developed with funds from a grant provided by the Illinois Department of Conservation, and support from many conservation organizations such as EarthPartners, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, and The Nature Conservancy.
In 1994, GPF started a summer internship program for college students interested in natural lands management. Interns learn management techniques to control exotic and woody species in natural areas and participate in site work days. In the summer of 1999 GPF had 3 part-time interns, and has since had two part-time interns annually. Much of this work has been funded by the members of GPF, proceeds from the annual spring native plant sale, and the Illinois Department of Natural Resource' Wildlife Preservation Fund Grant Program. In 2004, GPF received a substantial grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to fund two full-time interns for two years (2004 and 2005). This grant helped build GPF?s capacity
In 2004, GPF joined with another local conservation group, Prairie Grove Volunteers (PGV). PGV was a member organization of The Nature Conservancy's Volunteer Stewardship Network. PGV received all of its funding through TNC and concentrated management of forest and wetland as well as prairie. With the joining of forces, GPF expanded and revised its Constitution and By-Laws to include management and protection of natural areas other than prairie. This merger illustrated both groups' solid reputation for natural areas management in the area as well as the ability to work together on similar conservation projects.
Over the years, GPF has played a vital role in the conservation community of east-central Illinois and has cooperated with many local not-for-profits and government organizations including The Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Illinois Natural History Survey, Earth Partners, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Vermilion County Conservation District, Urbana Park District, and many others. We hope these joint efforts and cooperation among organizations will continue to promote prairie preservation, conservation, restoration, and education far into the future.
GPF is working to becoming more of a full-fledged land trust in east-central Illinois. We will continue to try to purchase land as well as pursue conservation easements to protect our natural resources.