Bell Bowl Prairie. Photo: Cindy Bunk

Message from the Executive Director, Kerry Leigh

As many of you have heard, the Chicago Rockford International Airport expansion plans include development on this prairie, a portion of which is an Illinois Natural Areas Inventory Site (INAI) that has not only historic significance to Rockford from the early days of Camp Grant and the Civilian Conservation Corps, but hosts a significant natural dry gravel prairie community that supports rare and endangered species. It is one of the few of these left in Illinois and many migratory birds rest there on their journey, attracting birders from across the Midwest. NLI’s founder, George Fell, fought to protect this piece of our historic Illinois landscape and at one time saved it from the bulldozers.

The entire prairie is 25 acres, with 4.88 acres listed as the INAI. The Natural Land Institute and its many partners have a long history of stewarding the Bell Bowl Prairie. With our partners from the Byron Forest Preserve District, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the Boone County Conservation District, the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County, the Rockford Park District, the Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy and others, the Natural Land Institute has participated in and coordinated stewardship days over the years to clear out invasive species and protect the site’s natural diversity. Just this year the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, a federally endangered species, was observed on the prairie.

Since that discovery, NLI has participated in conversations with the IDNR and the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board and the Airport Authority. The IDNR has re-opened their consultation process to re-evaluate the development request.  This consultation process is only advisory, and working with the parties to alter the footprint of the development is also being discussed.

In our opinion the economic benefits to our community of the airport expansion are not greater than the ecological benefits we receive from this rare and remnant habitat. Less than 1/100th of 1% of our native prairie landscape remains. We can no longer in all good conscience call ourselves the Prairie State. NLI believes that a responsible and sustainable solution is possible and will do everything we can to help make that happen. NLI therefore fully supports a revision to the development plans to avoid the prairie, and commits to assisting the airport with future management of this important, historic, and rare prairie.

NLI is deeply saddened by these current plans and urges you to contact your state and local representatives to let them know how important this historic remnant prairie is to the biodiversity of our state, and to Rockford. You can keep track of what’s happening on the Facebook group ‘Save Bell Bowl Prairie’  Here is the link:


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