Illinois – On the cusp of National Prairie Day (June 1), The Wetlands Initiative hosted five Joliet-area companies – “Prairie Champions” – in a volunteer planting day in a 4,000-acre area marked for accelerated restoration at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
With a theme this year of “Monarch Magic,” the volunteer day featured planting native species that are great nectar sources for monarchs such as Sullivant’s milkweed, rattlesnake master and marsh blazing star. In all, 44 corporate employees, including some with their children, planted more than 4,800 seedlings on a brand-new planting area at Midewin that was previously planted with soybeans to create a “blank slate” for restoration. Now the land is prepped to bring back critical habitat for pollinators like the monarch butterfly, threatened grassland birds, and more.
The Wetlands Initiative is one of the partners working with the Forest Service in a seven-year accelerated prairie restoration initiative on Midewin’s west side. Each year, they host a Corporate Volunteer Day honoring local companies and accomplishing planting at once. This year, a record five Joliet-area companies—DuPont, Ecolab, Exelon, Harrah’s Joliet, and Waste Management of Illinois—were recognized as “Prairie Champions” for supporting ecological restoration at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie – both with employee volunteerism and corporate donations.
To earn the Prairie Champions recognition, companies commit to sending a team of volunteers to the Corporate Volunteer Day and pledge $1,000 or more in donations to the prairie restoration effort in the past year. The Prairie Champions program began in 2016, benefiting the Lobelia Meadows Restoration Project at Midewin. In 2019, the companies supported the massive seven-year restoration effort on Midewin’s west side. The area was marked for accelerated focus in 2016, and since that winter teams of volunteers and staff have broadcast seeds every winter. This week, volunteers saw that some of the seeds that were planted in January this year – Rudbeckia hirta and more – are sprouting. This week plugs of plants – including rattlesnake master, pale spiked lobelia, mountain mint, Michigan lilies and more – were planted for the first time in the area as part of the accelerated activity.
“It is exceptional when we see businesses throughout the neighboring communities come together and take part in the rewarding experience of helping to conserve the land for future generations,” said Midewin Prairie Supervisor Wade Spang. “Planting projects like these are steps toward embracing a shared land ethic and vison for the area. We are so grateful to the people who found the time – and the dedication – to help make a difference here on the USDA Forest Service – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.”
All five participating companies have locations within 10 miles of Midewin, and all previously sent volunteers to the prairie. DuPont, Ecolab, and Harrah’s Joliet employees have all participated in TWI’s Corporate Volunteer Day at Midewin for five or more years, and a crew from Waste Management’s Prairie View and Laraway landfills has participated every year since the inaugural event in 2010. Each of the companies has also supported the restoration work at Midewin through multiple years of contributions. In 2018, they were joined by a fifth company—volunteers from Exelon Generation’s Braidwood Station, who tried out the plug planting activity for the first time. Exelon Braidwood became a full Prairie Champion in 2019.
Established in 1996 under the Illinois Land Conservation Act, Midewin is working with over 275 different species of native Illinois prairie plants as volunteers, staff and partners work to restore the land that was once the Joliet Area Army Arsenal.