Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

Planting Seeds

Illinois Prairie Path’s members knew their first task was to demonstrate that a footpath along the CA&E right of way was not only desirable, but possible. After two years of organizing support from local governments and community organizations, May Thielgaard Watts signed a twelve year lease with DuPage County granting the Illinois Prairie Path (also known by its acronym, IPP) the right to develop 27 miles of the railroad. Because the organization itself had no funds, IPP members organized cities, organizations, and individuals, whom they called “maintainers,” to donate money, materials, and effort to clean up a segment of the Path. By 1971, seven years after the project had begun, the Illinois Prairie Path became one of the first trails to be designated a National Recreation Trail. Watts delivered the keynote speech at the ceremony in Washington, DC.The Path continued to grow and flourish as IPP members learned how to negotiate with local and county governments, utilities, and other organizations to fulfill their vision of converting the entire CA&E right of way into a recreational trail. Volunteers such as Paul and Jean Mooring worked for decades to organize groups of maintainers and to speak on behalf of the Prairie Path at local government meetings and other events. In the 1980s, Path members began to advocate for prairie restoration and preservation.

Not everyone shared IPP members’ priority of maintaining a natural native landscape. Though the Prairie Path was ultimately successful in its original goal of converting the CA&E right of way into a recreational trail, there were times when their idea of maintenance clashed with that of local governments and utilities. In 1991, Commonwealth Edison announced plans to install high tension power lines along a part of the path in Warrenville. Illinois Prairie Path members organized opposition to this plan, which would have disrupted the natural landscape, and fought for seven years to make Commonwealth Edison change its proposed route. In spite of support from local government, in the end Commonwealth Edison was successful, and Path members had to live with the very changes to the landscape that Watts had founded the Prairie Path to prevent.
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.

This page has paths:

This page references: