Nachusa Memories – 30th Anniversary
As part of the Nachusa's Thirtieth Anniversary celebration, we invite you to share a memory or anecdote about your experience with our unique and inspiring community. Memories and photos can be emailed to NachusaGrasslands@gmail.com. These submissions will be posted here for all of us near and far to enjoy.
Jeff Meiners: Nachusa Neighbor for 30 years
My perspective of Nachusa is a little different than most. I didn’t come to Nachusa – it came to me. I’ve lived on the corner of Lowden and Naylor since 1986. That means that for 30 years I have had the pleasure of seeing and experiencing Nachusa nearly every day and have had a ring side seat to the most incredible transformation imaginable. I’ve tended my own little piece of the prairie on my property and have learned much about a part of nature that I never even knew existed before and have learned through trial and error the best and worst ways to help a prairie thrive (don’t attack parsnips with a weed wacker). A tract of land that is a part of Nachusa is designated as a memorial to my dad and we value you as the best possible neighbors we could have. The amount of effort and passion that has gone into transforming Nachusa from remnant pieces of prairie and cornfields to the place that it is today is amazing. Thank you for making this little corner of Illinois a most unique and thriving Garden of Eden.
Kent & Kathy Lawrence - Friends and Supporters
How WONDERFUL all of the people are at Nachusa and the fact that, but for, those people, Nachusa the research project it is would not be possible... So Thank You to all the Nachusa Folk and for all of the knowledge being acquired through their efforts!
Victor & Jean Guarino: Longtime Nachusa Friends
We remember some 15 years ago when we met Bill at the old barn site that was in process of being dismantled . There were several large roof timbers lying on the ground, and Bill asked if we would remove all the nails- so we did. And if became a long afternoon but we finished the job, and then followed Bill's truck dragging the timbers(nails removed) to the new barn site. Our reward - we were invited to a great party that evening. It was a fun day.
Mike Engel: Seasonal 1998
We celebrated with medium rare bison and a campfire my first time at Nachusa. It was the after party for the 1993 Rock River Bio Region Conference. We camped there just over the property line on Max and Sally's place. The tent managed to be on prickly pear and the whip-poor-wills entertained us all night long.
Five years later, I was lucky to be one of three seasonal hires. We lived at the Clear Creek house and frequently biked to and from the barn and yellow house. Highlights of that summer were the tree frog at the outdoor sink, learning to touch and smell plants from Susan as we collected their seeds. We had great lunches and conversation under the hackberry (Bill and Monica dominated the news and so many of our conversations). Bill empowered me to maintain his new tractor and insulate the 'new' gray house. We started the clean out of the stewardship barn at its original location. May thanks for all the fun and learning.
Sally Bowers: Volunteer 1996-2002
I was inspired to find hope as the prairie allowed me to get my hands back in the earth. At Nachusa the prairie, the volunteers, and Bill & Susan became a new community. Through hard work & tender loving care new life came forth.
Jocelyn Frazelle: Seasonal 2015 & Bison Fence Crew
One of my better memories from Nachusa started in mid-November 2014 when I went from being on the seasonal crew to working with the already established fence crew. It was at this time that the fence crew was getting started working on the South Bison Unit after successfully finishing the North Unit and introducing bison to the land. One of the first steps preparing for fence installation was clearing a path which means cutting down a lot of trees. We started on a half-mile long section on the west boundary by Jay’s Naylor Road planting which abuts a farm field, separated by a row of junk trees. This is where I first learned how to use a chainsaw and eventually the Terex grapple. Dave Crites was my initial instructor on chainsawing and was very patient, thorough and encouraging. It wasn’t long before I was keeping up with him, Mike Saxton, Cody, Bill, and the other volunteers who all helped take down a number of trees from the innumerable amount we started with. We worked every day for two weeks on this obstacle and today you could hardly tell that it used to be filled with trees. Anyone who is new to chainsawing will tell you that after a few hours of work you’re exhausted and sweaty and after a week your forearm muscles start to feel better after an intense soreness. The best part of this process was going back to the bunk house after work with Dave and Mike and talking about how cool our job is with a feeling of accomplishment.
Jackie Wagner-Hamstead: Seasonal 2010
The 2010 crew had a lot o' team pride. We had so much pride that we made up a rap about how awesome we were. That summer, Alicia Keys's New York was a popular song on the radio. I don't think that a bunch of 20-somethings riding around in a pick-up truck on a prairie in Illinois was her target audience but we all really connected with the song...except Kevin- as he was trying not to kill us as we sang along. Of course, Mike Saxton knew all of the words.
Brian Dugan and I bet 20 push-ups against two locals in a game of pool. I didnt sink any balls and Dugan and I dropped and gave em' 20 at the dirtiest bar in Dixon. I wish I could remember the name of that place...
On a more serious note, I loved getting lost in the big blue stem late in the season. I loved that everyone came to the barn to eat lunch together. I loved feeling like I had accomplished something important at the end of every day. I am still proud to have been part of the prairie. Nachusa is such a special place. I am very sorry that I cant be there. I will be back one day.
Kirk Hallowell: Steward 2011 - present
It is difficult to think of one, specific memory of Nachusa. Each and every day I have experienced the Grasslands has born some gift of insight, learning, companionship and laughter. Each circle of interaction with animal, plant or person contributes to a peace of mind that's surpasses understanding. Every moment is connected to the loving spirit of restoration. Ok, yes, one of my favorite specific memories is when Bill hit me over the head with the leg of a deer. Be sure to ask me about that... After a good burn day and over a glass of beer.
Jeremy Ansel: Seasonal 2010
Being hired to Work at Nachusa in 2010 was one of the most amazing and beneficial seasonal jobs I have ever had. When I first arrived at bunkhouse at Nachusa I was surprised with being greeted by Brian Dugan and Mike Saxton at my vehicle and them helping me unpack and show me around the bunkhouse. Being on the crew with Mike Saxton, Brian Dugan, Jackie (Wagner) Hamstead, Kevin Rohling, and Tanya Wallin we had some good times at the bunkhouse, learning the different plant species, and out in the units spraying weeds and collecting seed (while jamming to some music on Saxton's cell phone). Plus the off hours times playing corn hole, bocce ball, card games, Mario cart on N64, and camp fires.
Meeting and working with along with Cody and Bill and the volunteers that were there everyday putting in more than 40 hours a week of work was educational and beneficial. It showed how special this place was and how they wanted to continue their hard work on the remnant and new prairie plantings. Being only a seasonal worker for 1 year I gained some great experience that I still use today for my current position. Some of the best people I ever met came from Nachusa.
Dave Derwent: 30 year volunteer
I have had many amazing hikes at Nachusa. Before Nachusa, I helped Doug Wade fence the Redroot Prairie where he told me that the Birdsfoot Violet was the Regal food plant Twice at AOTP we saw fresh looking Regals flying through the fields.
Jenna Sanders-Kraskiewicz: Seasonal 1996
Where else could a suburban girl learn how to run a chainsaw, work a prescribed burn, drive a tractor and operate an excavator? Nachusa, of course! I have many fond memories of the fellowship and good times had while working and over many lunches in the shade. One of my first assignments as a new seasonal was to replicate an herbicide swiping contraption designed by (I believe) Ray Schulenberg. With no idea where to begin, I somehow managed to create the pvc herbicide applicator. This lesson in perseverance was the first of many that I learned while working for Bill Kleiman. Another one was not to drive a tractor pulling a loaded water buffalo through a patch of wetland plants, but we don’t need to get into that! Dedicated volunteers like Jay Stacy, Sally Baumgardner, Gene Miller, Mike Aldolph, Kevin Kaltenbach and many others patiently taught me more about plant and bird identification than some learn in a lifetime. Sally had a spare room full of baby Blue Jays that she was rehabilitating, Jay was always so very fun to work with and Gene used to giggle over some of the funnier plant names. I never got to live in that neat house everyone talks about, but do remember cleaning it up for the next group of workers. I am forever grateful for the time that I got to spend with such fun, dedicated and knowledgeable land stewards.
The skills, knowledge, personal relationships and field work experience that I gained at Nachusa Grasslands were the basis of my career and the rest of my life. After graduating NIU with a degree in biology I needed a job. Badly. I was working as a server and bartender while continuing to volunteer at Nachusa. Susan Kleiman helped start my future when she directed me to a position at the Byron Forest Preserve. This was my first full time job in the field and I loved it! Some people thought that I grew up on a farm due to the fact that working at Nachusa had taught me how to operate and maintain all kinds of equipment. I ended up on the Natural Resource Management Crew at the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and eventually became a Ranger. It was there that I met my husband, Brian. Now we have two wonderful boys and couldn’t be happier as we pass on our love of nature to them. Our family is proud to have a connection to this world class preserve and premier network of volunteers.
Steve Packard: Conservation Mentor and Former TNC Staff
I remember the drama of our first burn. When we got started, snipe were performing their eerie and spectacular mating flights. During the burn, wild turkeys started gobbling right in the middle of a partly burning patch of woods. They were psyched. They knew that habitat was on the way back. Or maybe they were just having fun. We were still mopping up as dusk approached and the woodcocks started their “peenting” and spiral flights. All three in one day. For later fires we got approval of the Shaws to burn all their property east and north of Franklin Creek. One night a chimney tree burned spectacularly, first like a Bunsen burner, then the whole tree, then a pile of coals, then ash. Nature was back. Recycling and renewed. Shockingly to some today, we did it all without Nomex or vehicles. It was rakes, flappers, a few backpacks, strong arms and legs, good teamwork and plans. Most of the control was by carefully designed backfires along streams, roads, trails, or thin-fuel areas. It was always perfectly safe. Tribute goes to scores of spirited, generous, hard-working people who made the team successful, as they do today. Nachusa is a community that so many of us feel proud to be in. And privileged. I know I do.
Jeff Horn: Seasonal 2001
Lots of good memories...spending the day with the volunteers collecting seed, working with the other staff on all kinds of projects, and a great feeling of accomplishment and pride at the end of the day....and sore muscles.
I recall a day when Becky Flack and I were out removing fence and we had parked the truck nearby. Some cattle had gotten into Nachusa somehow and they would chew and pull on the rubber seal around the window!
Rebecca Ely: Seasonal 2002
I suppose one of my favorite memories was the successful burn my fellow interns and I started accidentally. We had been burning a brush pile, and as we all felt it was well under control, we headed back to the barn for lunch. Not much later someone called to ask about the burn/fire that was happening over in the Sand Farm area, and we realized that the brush pile had "jumped ship". We rushed over with the proper tools, and were able to get everything under control. Thankfully, nothing was burned that shouldn't have been, and what could have been a disaster ended up being quite beneficial. It was one of those things that was scary at the time, but since it all turned out okay, we all kind of had a laugh about it.
Ellen Baker: Longtime Friend of Local Natural Areas
Along Lowden road ditches back in 1940 beautiful flowers grew but only because there weren't hand scythed off. Few if any mowers were available until after World War II. So those ditches were burned off occasionally. Often left to help keep the snow off the road in winter. The sandy one car road (Lowden) was traveled only when not too wet or too dry. Hardly a spot to pass another car. But flowers to me and weeds to others grew close to the road. The Baptisia pods decorated name markers at Thanksgiving dinners...
Back in the 1980s....on cool August evenings volunteers came out and laid on the stone outcrops to keep warm while watching meteor showers. Another evening and night activities were listening to whippoorwills from Doug's Knob, hears the coyotes howl and owls swooping overhead.
Austin Webb: Seasonal 2006 & 2007
So many great memories and people...The discussions around the lunch table, all my fellow crew members, all the volunteers, and a fair amount of the biota as well. First day: I essentially knew nothing about Illinois natural areas. We strapped on backpacks (filled to the brim) and hunted king devil all morning, pulling off the heads and stuffing them in plastic bags for disposal, treating the basal leaves...you know the drill. In the afternoon, we collected seed from dwarf dandelion, placing that in a paper sack-not for disposal, careful to not injure the plants. At the end of the day I couldn't comprehend why we would want to grow a seemingly miniature version of the plant we were killing all morning that carried the name dandelion. I decided to settle on a simple ID system for the first couple weeks: plastic bags=bad, paper bags=good. For the record, I have since been able to sort out that dilemma.
Dee Hudson: Photographer & volunteer 2012 - present
I will always treasure the memory of the day the bison arrived at the preserve on October 3rd, 2014. It was very exciting to be a part of this historic moment at Nachusa and I would not have missed it for the world! I remember waiting in the dark by the corral for over an hour for the trucks to pull in from their long journey. The temperature was in the upper 40’s, but it was so cold due to the high winds. Everyone there was very excited, but we would have to duck into the equipment shed every few minutes to warm up. Finally the trucks rolled in, but the bison did not want to come out of the semi and enter their new home until morning! However, when the door to the bull’s trailer opened, "Chain Breaker" literally burst into the corral with an amazing show of power and speed, and then immediately moved to the prairie hay bale and began eating. What an exciting night!
Cindy Blue: Donor and member
My first visit and hike was probably 10 years ago and I've followed its story ever since. I'm ecstatic to know there are now bison here!
Mike Saxton: 2007 - Present
I first started at Nachusa as a seasonal in May 2007. Arriving at the prairie a few weeks before the next seasonal afforded me the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with Bill. On my first day I was informed that we'd be spraying Reed Canary along Wade Creek and to grab my rubber boots. I'd never sprayed a drop of herbicide in my life and I didn't know RCG from Big Bluestem...but as we do at Nachusa, I dove excitedly headlong at the opportunity. At the Z-Bridge, we headed downstream, chatting about birds, identifying plants and talking about ecology. It was a warm day for May but the flowing waters kept us cool. It wasn't so much a slog but a saunter, it was jovial more than drudgery. Warblers sang, minnows swam and RCG perished. By days end, we'd made the Fen. With empty backpacks and soggy feet, we'd left RCG ruin in our wake. I might not have known it at the time, but it was an auspicious beginning, both to a lasting friendship and a passion for the prairie.
Neil Vanderkolk: First visit was 2015
My wife & I were the first visitors due to seeing you on "Tech Knows" on television about 2 weeks after it first aired!
Mark Hochsprung: Heritage Hero
I attended a conference Grass Restoration conference in 2014 and was so impressed I have included Friends of Nachusa in my estate trust.
Fran Harty: Longtime TNC Staff
Bill Kleiman has the cleanest and most orderly shop I have ever seen!!
Ron Cress: Educator & Friend
Lots of wonderful friends. The true beauty of what's been done.
Leading several school groups through the land. Introducing Kirk H to Nachusa. (Remember that first time, Kirk?)
Sandy Philipps: Friend since 2007
Coming from Albany NY to Madison WI for a wedding in fall 2007, and wanting an adventure besides, I learned of beautiful Nachusa just up the road from my Dad's birthplace in Ohio IL. Bernie Buchholz answered YES, they could use another volunteer seed gatherer! I've come back 3 more times to work, and will return for Autumn on the Prairie. I feel lucky to be a small part of such a dedicated team of hard-working magicians.
Lorraine Gawlik: Volunteer 2007-2012
I remember Sally Baumgardner on the ground amidst Cup Plants and Angelica, me, seed picking 20' away thinking that she had fallen, and there she was calling in a sacred whisper upon discovering a lone 6" high orchid stem. The whisper for me was of the very center of Sally's reverence and love for this gift of the Planet Earth. I was always privileged to do my little bit, learn from Sally and each of you whom I have met or come to know and respect, and further nurture the gift that is within me,
Cindy Crosby: Vice President of Friends, Dragon Fly Monitor
While out dragonfly monitoring one June, I noticed a strange white flower I'd never seen before. On closer inspection, it was the eastern prairie fringed orchid! That magical and unexpected moment is forever imprinted in my memory.
Joe Boise: Seasonal 2014
I remember arriving at Nachusa at the start of summer 2014. Having been an intern for other organizations, I did not expect to see such a large area of beauty or biodiversity in the middle of cropland areas. Working with such dedicated stewards and staff for The Nature Conservancy and Nachusa Grasslands is truly enough to make anyone an enthusiast. My favorite memory was waiting until midnight to watch the bison make their first appearance coming off the ramp. To see them in person, it was extremely exciting to know such a major goal towards returning to native conditions came to fruition. Congratulations on 30 years!
Cliff Knapp: 10-year fan of Nachusa
I am in awe of the bison. They deserve to be the National Mammal. What a success story. They are a mystical and fascinating animal. I'm so glad they are there, whether I see them or not.
Janie Houchin: Donor and Friend
Enjoyed Al Meier's retirement party and learning about his love for the prairie!