Shortline Railroad Prairie

County: Champaign
Ownership: Grand Prairie Friends
Dedication: 1984
Size: 6 Acres
Steward: Paul Marcum

The narrow gauge Rantoul to Potomac, or Shortline, Railroad was built in 1875, converted to standard gauge in 1887 by the Illinois Central Gulf railroad. Passenger service was offered until 1920. The line was abandoned in 1982 and the track removed in 1984.

Around that time, the newly formed Grand Prairie Friends was setting its goals and seeking a substantial prairie project. GPG members inventoried the right-of-way and prepared a plant species list for much of the abandoned line. On advice from botanists from the Nature Conservancy and the University of Illinois, the decision was made to purchase a segment of the right-of-way. A major fundraising campaign was launched, raising over $6500 for the purchase of this 0.7 mile long 66 foot wide section of track. The old railbed is maintained as a hiking trail with access from both the east and west sides.

The areas bordering the old railroad bed support a variety of native prairie plants, with high dryer areas supporting plants such as New Jersey Tea, Hoary Puccoon, and Lead Plant, with plants such as Cordgrass and Wild Iris growing in the low wetter areas. Since removal of the rails in 1984, the 11 foot wide rail bed is becoming colonized by a variety of disturbance tolerant species such as Prairie Dock, Monarda, and some non-native plants.

How to get there: From Champaign-Urbana take US 45 north to Rantoul, then turn right on US 136. Take this past Gifford, and turn right on 2400E. The prairie will be about .5 mi down the road on the left. Park in front of the gate.

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