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'Prairie Quest' hopes you find more than treasure in Illinois' native lands

ParkLands Foundation, Facebook

Jessica Chambers loves prairies.

“There's this huge part of me that wants to teach people about prairies and get people out into prairies,” said Chambers, who serves as director of the Illinois State University Horticulture Center.

Known as the Prairie State, Illinois once comprised over 22 million acres of prairie. Now the portion is vanishingly small. Only around 2,500 acres remain. Of that, even less is remnant prairie, which Chambers describes as untouched, “virgin” land. The rest is restored prairie, carefully cultivated and maintained through organization like the ParkLands Foundation.

In an effort to instill a love and appreciation of native landscapes in modern-day Illinoisans, Chambers has helped organize Prairie Quest. Part treasure hunt, part nature hike, Prairie Quest invites people to explore 8 different prairies throughout central Illinois.

Each quest takes hikers through a different nature preserve in pursuit of a “letterbox.” Contained therein is a logbook and handcrafted stamp created by ISU graphic design student Shauna Streitmatter. Those who find the box are asked to use the stamp to mark their own guidebooks and to leave their mark as well, before carefully placing the logbook and letterbox back where it was found.

The stamp should be the only trace hikers leave behind, Chambers said. But she does hope hikers leave with a newfound respect and love for Illinois’s remaining prairies.

Hikers have all summer to find all 8 letter boxes before Prairie Quest culminates in an October celebration at Letcher Basin in Secor.

More information can be found by searching “prairie quest” at atlasquest.com.

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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