Overview

A valuable remnant wetland surrounded by a prairie landscape at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

Named after a Potawatomi Native American word for “healing,” the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie in Will County stretches across 20,000 acres — a restoration undertaking of unprecedented scale in the region. This land once hosted the U.S. Army Arsenal, one of the world's largest ammunition plants. Today, it is the largest protected open space in northeastern Illinois, as it has become a designated national tallgrass prairie managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Get visiting information here.

Through an award-winning public-private partnership with the Forest Service, Midewin is the Wetlands Initiative’s longest-running restoration effort. Since 1997, TWI has worked closely with the Forest Service to restore native ecosystems here, providing extensive technical and financial support for habitat restoration. More than just a “prairie,” Midewin is returning to the complex mosaic of habitats that once characterized the Prairie State, including marsh, sedge meadow, wet prairies, and rare dolomite wetlands.

Some field crew members planting at Midewin.

TWI has successfully leveraged more than $3.5 million to support the restoration of 1,800 acres of once-lost and degraded wetlands and prairies at Midewin. In doing so, we have modeled how private organizations can partner with federal agencies to accomplish significant work. In 2013, TWI’s first restoration project at Midewin in partnership with the Forest Service received a Conservation and Native Landscaping Award from Chicago Wilderness and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

TWI's two current projects at Midewin are the Lobelia Meadows Restoration and the South Prairie Creek Outwash Plain. The Lobelia Meadows effort is transforming 160 acres of degraded industrial land back to healthy habitats, including globally rare dolomite prairie and wetlands (where dolomite bedrock is close to the soil’s surface). It will connect other previously restored areas for the first time to form a nearly 2,000-acre natural corridor on Midewin’s west side.

Through a major ongoing partnership with the National Forest Foundation, TWI is also restoring healthy prairies and wetlands on the South Prairie Creek Outwash Plain, a 2,100-acre parcel in Midewin’s southwest corner and the focus of NFF’s Treasured Landscapes campaign at Midewin.

At one time, prairies dominated more than 60 percent of the Illinois landscape, but today, less than 0.01 percent of high-quality tallgrass prairie remains in the state. Located an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie offers visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience a vast restored prairie–wetland landscape and its rare native plants and wildlife, including a herd of wild bison.

Funding for TWI’s restoration activities at Midewin in 2015–16 has been provided by Abra Prentice Foundation, Associated Colleges of Illinois, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, The Dow Chemical Company, Ecolab, Grand Victoria Foundation, Harrah’s Joliet, National Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, and Waste Management.

Learn more:

Practical Climate Change Adaptations. Learn how TWI is making our Midewin restorations adaptive to climate change.

A Midewin Almanac. Follow Arthur Pearson's blog as he chronicles the restoration of Midewin.