History of the Prairie Project


By: Don and Brett Barnhart

1987 The Beginning:

   This was the first year that any prairie restoration was done on the Barnhart farm. It began with my father's (Harry Barnhart) enrollment in a government sponsored ten year set aside program for highly erodable soils. Under this program, we had 33 acres of land designated to be planted in prairie and alfalfa for a period of ten years. At this point, we had no resources of our own for planting prairie, so Dave Monk was contacted for assistance. Dave succeeded in finding enough prairie seed to plant 5.5 acres, much of which came from the late Doug Wade and the Wade Prairie. Using a Truax Planter, we planted 2.5 acres of mixed prairie on a hillside south of the farm buildings. An additional 3 acres of pure species plots were planted along the hedge north of the farmstead. The remaining acres were planted in alfalfa and timithy grass. It was decided that each following year, we would plant additional prairie according to the available prairie seed supply.
   In the fall of 1987, my father and I made an organized effort to harvest prairie seed from prairie growing along the local railroad right-of-ways. Techniques included hand picking, the use of an electric hedge trimmer, and the use of a gasoline powered weed-eater.

1988 The Second Year:

   This year we succeeded in planting an additional 8 acres of prairie on the ten year set-aside land, using the seed which we had harvested the previous fall. No seed was purchased this year. 4.5 acres of ground on the hillside north of the farmstead were planted in little blue stem grass and mixed forbes. An additional 3.5 acres were planted in grasses and forbes immediately west of the farmstead. Most of the planting was done using a fertilizer spreader barrowed from Pierce Fertilizer company. The outer 75' perimeter of the north 4.5 acres was planted using a drill borrowed from the state, until the drill broke down. Unfortunately, this year was overshadowed by a tremendous drought, which prevented any of the seed from germinating. The prairie would have to wait until next year to grow.
   In the fall, I harvested more prairie seed. This time Jim Nance and Doris Westfall made significant contributions of prairie seed.

1989 the Neal Street Project:

   In summer of 1989, the prairie growing along south Neal Street was to be destroyed with the widening of Route 45 from a two lane road into a four lane highway. 1989 respresents a flurry of prairie restoration activity, with the transportation of prairie plants away from Neal Street. This summer an additional 15 acres of ground was enrolled in the ten year setaside program- making a total of 48 acres available for praire work.
   The seed acquired from the year previous was planted in two places. The majority was planted on 3.5 acres west of the farmstead. This land had been seeded the year previous, but I was not sure that anything had survived the drought, so I chose to reseed the same ground. This seeding was done entirely with a fertilizer spreader barrowed from Pierce Fertilizer Company. The second location planted was a garden area located south of the farmstead. This garden area was designated for planting pure stands of various plants. These stands were both in rows, and later on in patches.
   In addition to seed planting, prairie plants were moved to the farm from Neal Street in the form of roots and rhizomes. Some of these plants were transplanted in rows to the garden area, while others were moved in truck loads of sod, forming patches of prairie. Both the garden area and the waterway north of the farmstead received sod in this manner. Another 1/2 acre area of cord grass was moved, via 7 truck loads of sod, to a region on the far west edge of the farm property, known as the "Willows." All told, 30 truckloads of sod were moved, each load weighing close to 10,000 pounds. By the end of the summer, a running total of 15 acres of land was planted in prairie.
   In the fall, the grass areas planted in the summer of 1987 were mature enough to be harvested. Using an 8 row combine with a bean head attachment, a total of 400 Lbs of Indian Grass, Big Bluestem, and Canadian Wild Rye were harvested. In the spring, this seed was used to plant 15 acres of prairie on the recently enrolled setaside land.

2000 the Conservation Easement:

   In 1998, Donald was made aware of a new program called C-2000 (Conservation 2000) through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. After making the application and working out the details, 80 acres of the Barnhart Farm were placed into a conservation easement for the purpose of restoring prairie in early 2000 (shortly after our father's death). (See our constitution for more info).
   Since that time, we have steadily planted new prairie with the ideals of collecting seed within 30 miles of the Barnhart farm. The idea is have our Prairie be a example of what land in the area of East Central Illinois might have looked like when our settlers came. Early on in the project, Donald noticed that some commercial obtained seed as well as seed collected from other areas of Illinois matured at different times then plants locally harvested.

2004 More land is added to the project:

   In the spring of 2004, our eldest sister Amber Barnhart sold 8 adjoining acres to the conservation program, bringing the total number of acres within the project to 88. Including prairie not currently in the prairie easement, this will bring the total acres of prairie to the 100 acre mark.

2005 Nature Preserve Status

   The 80 acres that lie within the original Prairie Conservation easement gained Nature Preserve status in the fall of 2005. This additional layer of protection ensures that this prairie will be available to future generations of residents in Champaign County as a living testament to the ecological history on Champaign County.

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