Fermilab Prairie

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During the 1960's, Fermilab acquired the site in Batavia which included thousands of acres of what had once been prairie. In 1971, Robert Betz, Professor of Biology at Northeastern Illinois University, approached Fermilab with his Prairie Restoration Project. Restoration plans began in the main ring in 1973 with Dr. Betz, Raymond Schulenberg, former Curator of Plant Collections at the Morton Arboretum, and a few dedicated Fermilab employees piloting the project. Supported by founding Fermilab director, Robert R. Wilson, Betz and Fermilab employees established the Prairie Committee. In May 1974, Plot I was planted using over 400 pounds of seed collected by 100 volunteers working thoughout the area. The 9.6 acre plot yielded, to the untrained observer, only ragweed, but Betz persisted and found tiny prairie plants struggling to survive. The native flora was growing, but at this point was putting nearly all of its energy into the vital root systems necessary for survival. After a few years enough prairie plants existed to allow burning the plot.

Plantings continued over the years with new plots disked, planted and burned on a regular basis. By 1984, over a decade of restoration had taken place when Argonne National Laboratory requested that a group of terrestrial ecologists be permitted to conduct research in the Prairie restoration Project. This added even more credibiliy and exposure to the project.

In 1985, Leon M. Lederman, Fermilab Director, submitted a proposal for the lab site to become a Department of Energy National Environmental Research Park. He opened the door to a variety of funding sources, and even more individuals because initiated into the prairie scene. Over 700 acreas of restored prairie existed on the site by 1988. The prairie at Fermilab was, at that time, the largest reconstructed prairie in the world.

The year 1989 brought the official approval of Fermilab as a DOE Research Park. Fermilab is the sixth such park in the national network. This site is considered unique because of the wide sampling of native Midwest ecosystem life forms. Also in 1989, the Margaret Pearson Interpretive Trail opened to honor the long time Manager of the Public Information Office and original member of the Prairie Committee.

Program Contact: Sue Sheehan - sheehan@fnal.gov
Web Maintainer: ed-webmaster@fnal.gov
Last Update: November 2016