Natural areas you need to see

Here’s a staggering statistic for you courtesy of the Illinois Natural History Survey: Before the settlers arrived in Illinois, more than 60 percent of the state was covered in prairie — that’s about 22 million acres. Today, just over 2,000 acres of that remain.

That’s crazy, right? The good news though is that a good sum of those acres lie in Champaign County and are part of our natural area parks.

A few weeks ago, I talked to Derek Liebert, superintendent of Planning and Operations for the Urbana Park District. I asked him why, as a community, we hold natural areas in such high regard.

“We’re managing our areas as museums, as environmental education grounds, where people can learn about the importance of the grasslands, woodlands and the savanna systems that were once dominant in this area,” he said.

All you have to do to enjoy our natural history is go to one of these three natural areas. Some have prairies, some have woods, some have both — regardless, they’re all a glimpse into this area’s natural history.

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    Meadowbrook Park

    Meadowbrook is located at 2808 S. Race St., an easy 10 minute bike ride from FAR or PAR. It’s an Austin-certified, wonderful prairie — complete with controlled burns, deer and an awesome observation deck that you can spend hours just staring out from.

    Busey Woods Gateway Trail

    Located at the Anita Purves Nature Center, Busey Woods is complete with a wooden path that winds through a forest. Some of these trees are incredibly old — they date back to the days of the “Big Grove.”

    You know how I said 60 percent of Illinois used to be prairie? Well the rest was a mix of other natural areas, including places like the Big Grove — huge forests that were spaced between the prairies that helped contain wild fires with their fire resistant oaks.

    Allerton Park

    This was an estate given to the University years ago. There are weddings, tourists and really cool gardens right off from the parking lot — but if you go past the estate, there’s a seemingly endless forest with plenty of trails to keep you coming back.

    Austin is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] and @austinkeating3.