Bell Bowl Prairie Was Destroyed Yesterday—But the Fight Continues to Protect Wildlands in Illinois and Beyond

In the darkness yesterday morning at 6:00 a.m., a single bulldozer began tearing into and destroying an ecosystem that had existed for tens of thousands of years. Bell Bowl Prairie was bulldozed as part of a runway expansion for Chicago Rockford International Airport and the construction of a distribution facility. Bell Bowl Prairie was located at 6045 Cessna Drive in Rockford, Illinois. It deserved to be saved because:

  1. It was a beautiful intact ecosystem that has existed for thousands of years.
  2. It was a Category I Illinois Natural Areas Inventory site. This designation is granted to sites that have a very high ecological quality.
  3. It was a birding hotspot, including for migratory birds.  
  4. It was 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.  
  5. Five of its 25 acres featured 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–now even less due to the destruction of Bell Bowl Prairie.

While a Federal Aviation Administration-authorized alternate roadway plan leaves a tiny portion of an already tiny prairie intact, what we once knew as Bell Bowl Prairie is gone because of the intransigence and downright destructive glee of representatives of the Chicago Rockford International Airport and other government entities. With great power comes great responsibility (as the saying goes). The fact that those in power did not wield their power responsibly has created public backlash and toxic relationships between members of the community and government. A more inarticulate way to say this is that many people are pissed off because those in power chose not to find an alternative development plan that would have saved the prairie, but still allowed the airport to expand. In the next elections and through other legal means, let’s remember to repay those who let us down during the Bell Bowl Prairie debacle.

Amidst my sadness at the destruction of another natural area, I’m overwhelmed by the passion advocates had for saving the prairie and protecting our last wild places for this generation and future ones. The battle to save Bell Bowl Prairie created new friendships and nature-based alliances that will hopefully more effectively protect the natural world in Chicagoland during future battles. Additionally, members of the public were educated about the need to protect natural areas and some, for the first time possibly, were inspired to contact their elected officials, attend rallies, and advocate for the prairie online and through other means.

There was no need to destroy Bell Bowl Prairie. There was a solution that would have allowed 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.” 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.

The battle has been lost for the prairie, but I hope that you’ll do your part to try to save the next “Bell Bowl Prairie” that is on the radar of government agencies and businesses. Because once our natural areas are gone, they’re gone. There is no going back.

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)

Large-Flowered Penstemon and Wild Lupine
Loggerhead Shrike


Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid


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.



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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