Digging Revery Prairie

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Glenn Adelson and his students have broken ground on a 200-year project to restore the natural ecosystems that once thrived on the land now housing Lake Forest College.

With the blessing of the Board of Trustees, the administration, and Student Government, the group plotted, dug up, and seeded a bean-shaped area on the triangle of land between Young Hall and the Mohr Student Center on Middle Campus last November—the pilot of the enterprise. Joe-pie weed, wild bergamot, and thimblewood are among the species that will spring again.

Nadia Gronkowski ’14 and other senior environmental studies students also planted a native tree, the White Oak, in that space on April 25 in recognition of Arbor Day. View a photo gallery here.

Since the project’s inception, Gronkowski has served as a liaison between students and the spearheading Campus Sustainability Committee. She is the one who first presented the idea to Student Government “in order to get their feedback and better understand how the general student population would react to this transformation of the Middle Quad,” said Gronkowski, who also is minoring in education and legal studies. “The members of Student Government asked basic questions about prairies and restoration and showed that with a little bit of education and explanation, they could get really excited about the project.”

Five to ten years from now, Adelson envisions the space to look a lot more like it did in the early to mid-1800s, a savannah prairie with some pathways and benches for the campus community’s pleasure. 

The reasoning is simple: “Restoration proceeds for healthier ecosystems, more biodiversity, and the most important thing, beauty,” Adelson said.

He points to the success of another prairie restoration project on Middle Campus, Shooting Star Savannah, as an example. The ecosystem now enjoys about 100 flower species; prior to restoration, there were maybe five or 10. Native plants come back on their own once a system is started, Adelson said, and with them a more diverse species of insects, birds, and mammals. 

Like Shooting Star Savannah, the prairie will be maintained by student, faculty, and staff volunteers who will be responsible for planning the locations, shapes, and sizes of the plots that will eventually take up the entire triangle of space; busting sod; planting seeds; and monitoring the progress of the plant life. In several years when the prairie is larger, they will also need to conduct prescribed burns, but that will take some specialized training for the volunteers.

“Shooting Star Savanna has been a very restorative and relaxing environment to learn and work in, and I envision Revery as a similarly rich educational resource,” Gronkowski said. “I also hope that maintenance of the area can serve as a means of getting as many people as possible involved in this environmental initiative.”  

Environmental studies students also will be documenting all of their work in a clear and comprehensive handbook for students 10-20 years from now—a means for learning lessons in delayed gratification and the importance of communicating with the future.

“That’s the hopeful side of environmental studies,” Adelson said.

Although Gronkowski has enjoyed her time as an on-campus environmental advocate and believes her experiences have prepared her for a future working in the environmental not-for-profit world, she views Revery Prairie as something bigger than her.

“This project is important to me because it represents how Lake Forest College is moving towards a more sustainable future from every direction,” she said. “This type of holistic commitment is the first and most important step toward creating a community that is based on principles of environmental sustainability, but that also has sustainable commitment to those principles.”