Clearing the way at Lobelia Meadows project

Just four months into the Wetlands Initiative's new Lobelia Meadows Restoration at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the site looks much different. Earth-moving contractors, overseen by TWI, have removed nearly all manmade alterations to the landscape.

TWI worked with local contractor Lee Werner, also known as The Dirt Man, to remove manmade features impacting the Lobelia Meadows landscape.

The multi-year Lobelia Meadows project is TWI's sixth in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service at Midewin, and will transform 160 acres of degraded industrial land back to high-quality wetlands and prairie. The first step of this effort was to restore the parcel's original topography and natural hydrology (water patterns) so that water could persist on the landscape and healthy wetlands could return.

Previously, the Forest Service had removed an old sewage treatment building from the site, but other infrastructure still remained to be taken out, including gravel berms, concrete foundations, and drain tiles. This intensive work was made possible with funding from the Grand Victoria FoundationNational Forest FoundationGaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, and the U.S. Forest Service. The way is now clear for TWI's field restoration crew to focus on invasive management and replanting.

The project was named for the three species of lobelias that can be found in pockets of remnant habitat on the site. Lobelias are showy wildflowers that thrive in wet prairie and sedge meadows. TWI will be planting more lobelias on the site, along with more than 100 other species of native plants.

Removing agricultural drain tiles that are carrying water off the site (the clay pipe visible here) is an important step in restoring wetlands at Lobelia Meadows. Here the dolomite bedrock close to the surface can also be seen.

Because dolomite bedrock is close to the surface across much of the site, the habitats to be restored at Lobelia Meadows will include globally rare dolomitic prairie and wetlands. Only 140 acres of dolomitic prairie remain across all of Illinois.

The Lobelia Meadows restoration is also important to the larger picture at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie because of its strategic location on Midewin’s west side, where most restoration efforts to date have focused. Once complete, the Lobelia Meadows site will for the first time link three previous restorations and other high-quality areas to form a nearly 2,000-acre natural corridor.

This huge, connected native landscape will better support populations of rare plants and wildlife and will be more resilient to disturbances like invasive species and extreme weather conditions. It will also give visitors to Midewin a true experience of the vastness of Illinois’ original prairie-wetland landscape.

Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the former site of the Joliet Army Arsenal, one of the largest ammunition plants in the country during World War II. Now, the Forest Service is overseeing the management and restoration of its 20,000 acres. Since 1999, the Wetlands Initiative has been the Forest Service's major on-the-ground restoration partner at Midewin. To date, TWI has completed restoration on more than 1,500 acres of Midewin, helping to recover a diverse mosaic of native wetlands and prairie.