Bell Bowl Prairie Will be Destroyed on November 1, 2021—Unless You Act Now

The prairie will be bulldozed as part of a runway expansion for Chicago Rockford International Airport and the construction of a distribution facility. Bell Bowl Prairie is located at 6045 Cessna Drive in Rockford, Illinois.

One thing is certain: we do not need another Amazon or other mega-seller distribution facility, but we do need to preserve Bell Bowl Prairie.

We should save Bell Bowl Prairie because:

  1. It’s a beautiful intact ecosystem that has existed for thousands of years.
  2. It’s a Category I Illinois Natural Areas Inventory site. This designation is granted to sites that have a very high ecological quality.
  3. It is a birding hotspot, including for migratory birds.  
  4. It’s the home of the federally endangered or threatened rusty patched bumble bee, prairie bush clover, and eastern prairie fringed orchid; state-endangered large-flowered penstemon, prairie dandelion, and loggerhead shrike; and state-threatened black-billed cuckoo. An environmental assessment to record the presence of these plants, birds, and insect was rushed (an inventory occurred on one August day in 2018). The rusty patched bumble bee was sighted at Bell Bowl Prairie on August 8, 2021, and the large-flowered penstemon (which blooms not in August, but in late spring/early summer) was spotted by multiple visitors in 2021. Yet, the planned bulldozing of the prairie remains on schedule.   
  5. Five of its 25 acres feature a high-quality gravel hill prairie remnant. To give you some perspective, there are only about 2,300 acres of high-quality prairie remaining in Illinois. In pre-settlement Illinois, 70 percent of the “Prairie State” was comprised of prairie. Only 0.01 percent of original prairie is left in Illinois.

A fierce #SaveBellBowlPrairie campaign has been ongoing, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the passion advocates have for the prairie and saving our last wild places for this generation and future ones. Because once this prairie is gone, it’s gone. There is no going back.

The story of human history is one of commerce and convenience over nature. Some of the most beautiful areas of Illinois and the United States have been destroyed because people were either greedy or valued “progress” over the protection of the land, which is finite.

Loggerhead Shrike

I consider myself an environmentalist with a dose of pragmatism and realism. The levers of government and Corporate America—especially when focused together on a goal (such as the airport expansion)—can be powerful and extremely harmful to the little people and the little lands (such as Bell Bowl Prairie) that get swept up in their shortsighted plans. I understand the need for infrastructure expansions in some instances, but not at the expense of the destruction of Bell Bowl Prairie. There is an alternative solution for this issue. I, like many other advocates, ask Chicago Rockford International Airport to redesign its expansion to save the prairie, rather than bulldoze it. With great power comes great responsibility (as the saying goes). Not wielding power responsibly risks public backlash and the creation of toxic relationships between members of the community and government.  

Take Action

The Natural Land Institute has taken the lead in trying to save Bell Bowl Prairie. It offers a useful website that will provide much more detail than I can in a short blog post, as well as action steps that you can take to try to save the prairie. Savebellbowlprairie.org is another top-notch resource that answers questions such as What Can I Do?, What’s Happening?, and What’s at Stake? Visit these sites to understand what’s at stake and what to do to save the prairie.

There’s a lot you can do to try to save Bell Bowl Prairie, including:

  • Telling your friends and family about the issue, directing them to the aforementioned websites, and asking them to spread the word.
  • Sending a personal email, writing a letter, or calling the people and organizations listed at Savebellbowlprairie.org.
  • Using #SaveBellBowlPrairie on social media.
  • Attending public meetings (October 19th and October 26th) to have your say (more on these meetings at Savebellbowlprairie.org).
  • Attending the Greater Rockford Airport Authority Board of Commissioners meeting on October 28.
  • Thinking about how you can use your talents and profession to help save the prairie and contacting the Natural Land Institute with actionable ideas.   

Final Thoughts

Prairies are a special part of our natural world, and they’re sometimes overlooked amidst the forests and Great Lakes of the Midwest. But a walk in a prairie is a wonderful thing in any season. It’s an antidote to the troubles of the modern world. Prairies are also repositories of natural history and the homes of a wealth of rare, endangered, and threatened plants and animals.  

There is no need to destroy Bell Bowl Prairie. There is a solution out there that will allow the airport to be expanded, while protecting this land that is part of the 0.01 percent of original prairie left in the “Land of Lincoln.” Less money may be made and logistics workers may be inconvenienced in some way, but every step should be made to save this priceless natural resource.

I hope that you’ll do your part to try to save this Illinois treasure. Let’s keep fighting till the prairie is protected…and then we can move on to fighting the next battle to save Illinois’ wildlands.

Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes

Copyright (photos): rusty patched bumble bee (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS), prairie bush clover (Phil Delphey, USFWS), loggerhead shrike (Tom Koerner, USFWS), eastern prairie fringed orchid (Kristen Lundh, USFWS), large-flowered penstemon and wild lupine (Tina Shaw, USFWS)

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Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book has 306 pages and 210+ photos and is only $18.99.

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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES

I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job OpeningsNontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDsThey Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titlesThey Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. 

In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering CareersWhat Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).

My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.

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