Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Branching Out

Members of the Illinois Prairie Path have never forgotten that founder May Thielgaard Watts was, first and foremost, an educator. Through publications and guided tours, IPP members have helped Path users to understand the many landscapes featured along the Path.


From the beginning, IPP newsletters have taught members to “read the landscape,” a skill advocated by Watts herself. Until the 1990s, the newsletters featured hand illustrated front pages that pointed out features of a particular spot on the Path. Even after the illustrations were discontinued, Path members like Larry Sheaffer wrote articles that explained, for instance, the history of native tallgrass prairies.

Guide to the Path

Helen Turner was a founding member of the Illinois Prairie Path and a gifted botanical illustrator. Turner not only illustrated the IPP newsletter for many years, but produced a beautiful guide to the path that is still available today.

Guided Tours and Display Cases

Illinois Prairie Path members have led guided tours of sections of the Path since the late 1960s. Self guided tours and display cases along the path provide information to enhance Path users’ experiences.

The Illinois Prairie Path celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013. Its members continue to contribute to Path maintenance and also to advocate for trail development in the region. Other local trails, such as the Great Western Trail and the Fox River Trail, join the Illinois Prairie Path at certain points to create a network of recreational trails across the southwestern Chicago suburbs.  

It took another twenty years after the founding of the Illinois Prairie Path for the rails to trails movement to take off in the United States. Legislation passed in the 1980s, such as the Staggers Rail Act and the railbanking amendment to the National Trails Act, made it easier for railway companies to deactivate unprofitable lines, and for trail advocates and public officials to keep those lines in use as trails. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a national organization dedicated to converting disused rail lines into recreational trails, opened its doors in 1986, and was the final spur for communities across the country to follow Chicagoland’s lead.
Use the cards at the bottom of each page to explore various parts of the "Growing a Path from the Grass Roots" chapter. There will always be a card to take you back to the chapter introduction or you can go back to the Wild in the City overview.


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