Pec Historical Society meeting to explore history of prairie

From press release

The past and future of the Pecatonica Ridge Prairie will be the topics of a program presented by the Natural Land Institute (NLI) at a meeting of the Pecatonica Historical Society at 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 17. The meeting will be at the Pecatonica Public Library at 400 W. 11th St. It is free and open to the public.

NLI purchased the rare native prairie east of the Village of Pecatonica at auction last June. Marguerite Sass, Eleanor Sass and other members of the family had been the sole owners of the 15-acre prairie, part of their 120-acre farm, for about 100 years. Family members will participate in the Oct. 17 program.

The prairie is one of about 250 pieces of original prairie scattered throughout Illinois that has survived in its natural condition. It is at one end of an 80-acre parcel that also includes cropland and wetland. The conservation group acquired the entire 80 acres.

Sally Hoff, Pecatonica resident and member of the NLI Board of Trustees, said the long-term protection of this land is significant for the people of Pecatonica and for everyone in our region.

“This spectacular prairie offers a glimpse back in time, and is a place to experience how beautiful our area is,” Hoff said. “Many of us in the neighborhood weren’t aware until recently that the prairie was there. Now we know how valuable it is, and that it is to be treasured.”

Jerry Paulson, executive director of the NLI, said an extraordinary combination of good fortunes occurred for original prairie to survive into the 21st century. In the case of the Pecatonica Ridge Prairie, he said it took an unusual environment of thin, rocky, soil that favors native plants, a fluke in land use and local geography (a pasture without a water supply), and landowners who appreciated the beauty and rarity of the prairie flowers and who intentionally kept the prairie safe over the years.

John White, ecologist from Urbana, Ill., visited the Pecatonica Ridge Prairie last year while conducting a systematic search for prairies and other natural areas in the Pecatonica River valley. He documented diverse species of native prairie plants growing at the prairie, including porcupine grass, rosinweed, prairie smoke and New Jersey tea, a plant that survives in virgin prairies that were never cleared and farmed. White has helped establish or supervise natural heritage inventory programs in all 50 states and seven other countries. He said prairies are rare and vanishing in Illinois. “One hundredth of 1 percent of the original prairie has survived in good condition. Each is precious,” White said.

The NLI, a private, not-for-profit land conservation group headquartered in Rockford, will protect the Pecatonica Ridge Prairie as a haven for wildlife and for local residents to study and enjoy. For information, call 815-964-6666 or visit the group’s Web site at

From the Oct. 5-11, 2005, issue

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