Away from the towns and highways, amid corn and soybean fields in Stephenson County, Illinois, is Meinert Prairie. It is an unexpected find -- a steep ravine across the rolling agricultural landscape with native prairie on its steep sides, crowned by an old cedar tree.
Allen and Shirla Meinert’s family knew it as an out-of-the-way place on their farm where the girls could collect wildflowers for the kitchen table. Their daughters Kim and Jolene called it their “bad lands” and their “mountain,” a pretty patch of unfarmable land, and would visit to bring home flowers for church bouquets or Shirla Meinert’s blue-ribbon arrangements for the county fair. Father and daughter liked to ride the tractor back there, and then sit and rest on the hilltop under a cedar tree.
It was a search for pasque flowers that drew Nick Faessler, a prairie enthusiast who lived nearby. One spring he found the first spring bloomers, and the first prescribed fire in a hundred years that followed discovery, caused “quite a lot of excitement” for the Meinerts. The land passed to Richard and Joanne Meinert in 1997, who donated 6.399 acres to The Prairie Enthusiasts in 2018.
Nick Faessler (608-214-3852 or email [email protected]) and the Prairie Bluff Chapter
Access & directions
Meinert Prairie is located a half-mile across the state line in Section 21 of Rock Grove Township, Stephenson County, Illinois.
Go south from Highway 11-81 between Juda and Brodhead, Wisconsin, on County G about six miles. Continue into Illinois for less than a mile, and take the first right turn on E. Walnut Grove Road. Go past Spring Brook Road and Siedschlag Road.
Our access is a 20-foot easement for 600 yards on an unpaved dirt lane north of Spring Brook Road. Park at the southeast corner of Meinert Prairie and walk in. The hillsides can be steep, so be careful.
Map of site
Prescribed fire has been a useful tool at Meinert Prairie for controlling brush and weeds, and it has proved helpful in stimulating natives not seen before.
Volunteers are trimming back a sumac clone in the northeast corner. The ravine, or wooded draw, across the site from northwest to southeast, is a natural firebreak. The chapter has put fire on the ground in various burn units in 2011, 2012 and 2018. TPE property includes a 20-foot buffer along the south and west sides, an alfalfa field that we plan to plant with native species in 2020. The ravine, filled with dead wood and brush, is a future project.
Description & significance
Dry hill prairies change with the seasons, from pasque flower and shooting stars in spring, compass plant and pale purple coneflower in summer, blazing stars, asters and goldenrods in autumn.
If you visit in June, watch the insects swarm the blossoms of New Jersey tea. Monarchs have three milkweeds to choose from at Meinert – common, whorled and short-green milkweed. Look for rarities like Seneca snakeroot.