Liberty Prairie Reserve

Since our founding in 1993, the Liberty Prairie Foundation has served as the visionary, convener, and financial resource behind the Liberty Prairie Reserve. The Liberty Prairie Reserve is an area of approximately 5,000 acres in central Lake County (Illinois) established in 1991 through a privately developed comprehensive plan adopted by the Lake County Forest Preserve District, Libertyville Township, and a group of civic-minded private landowners. The Reserve improves the quality of life for the people who live in or near it by improving the health of the land, water, and wildlife while providing for economic livelihoods through farming.

History

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Over half of the land in the Liberty Prairie Reserve has been protected by the active leadership and cooperation of public and private landowners, through more than 100 legal transactions. The Liberty Prairie Reserve is located in the Libertyville and Grayslake areas and is bounded by Route 120, Route 137, and the eastern edge of the Independence Grove Forest Preserve just east of Route 21.

The desire to preserve most of the Liberty Prairie Reserve as open land was the impetus for developing the Prairie Crossing conservation community, which is located within the Liberty Prairie Reserve along with the Prairie Crossing Farm.

Initially called the Oak Prairie Reserve, the Liberty Prairie Reserve’s purpose was to “provide a distinctive open space sanctuary under public and private ownership which will preserve and restore the area’s natural and historical landscape of agricultural fields, woodlands, wetlands, prairies, and farmsteads.”

More than $100 million has been invested in land acquisition, conservation easements, trails, and habitat restoration within the Reserve. This investment by public, private, and philanthropic interests have protected over 3,400 acres of natural areas and farmland to create an oasis of healthy land in the midst of a rapidly growing Lake County.

The original Master Plan, adopted in 1991, included many ambitious recommendations for the newly created Liberty Prairie Reserve. Twenty years after it was established, many of the recommendations included in the 1991 Master Plan have been accomplished.

  • Over 3,300 acres of natural areas and farmland on public and private lands have been legally protected from development through more than 100 separate land transactions and agreements.
  • Over 12 miles of new public trails wind through some of the most scenic rural landscapes in Lake County.
  • Water quality has improved and hundreds of acres of natural areas are actively managed.
  • Three Illinois State Nature Preserves have been established on both public and private lands, demonstrating and safeguarding the unique natural heritage of the Reserve.
  • Farm operations have expanded and diversified to include over 100 acres of sustainable, local organic production. Conventional grain farming has continued on nearly 700 acres.
  • The Liberty Prairie Reserve was named one of four “Last Chance Landscapes in the U.S.” by Scenic America in 2000.

Master Plan

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The Liberty Prairie Reserve is still growing and evolving. The Liberty Prairie Reserve Master Plan was revised in May 2013, thanks to a Local Technical Assistance Grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and the leadership of Conserve Lake County. The Liberty Prairie Foundation has played a key role in the formation and continued investment in the Liberty Prairie Reserve. This multi-stakeholder initiative included numerous recommendations for improved land management, coordination, and opportunities for sustainable local food farming.

The 2013 Master Plan includes detailed recommendations to:

  • Expand core habitats.
  • Support ecological management and restoration.
  • Preserve more open space.
  • Transition agriculture to sustainable and “biologically-based” practices.
  • Improve public access and movement through and around the Reserve.
  • Establish a Planning Council for Stakeholders

Click here for the May 2013 Liberty Prairie Reserve Master Plan Summary Brochure.

The Master Plan was formally adopted by the Lake County Forest Preserve District, Libertyville Township Open Space District, Conserve Lake County, Openlands, and the Liberty Prairie Foundation. The Liberty Prairie Reserve is beyond the scope of any responsible individuals, but rather represents the collective work of the Foundation’s Board, staff, volunteers, and many project partners.

Local Food

LPF LF_editedSustainable local food systems balance economic prosperity, environmental preservation, and public health while moving agricultural products from farmer to consumer. National, regional, and local trends indicate a shift in farming practices and consumer demand, as well as present an opportunity for Lake County to capitalize on this growing economic sector. The Liberty Prairie Reserve is not just a place with abundant natural areas. It is also a place where people grow food.

More than 800 acres of land are currently in agricultural production within the Liberty Prairie Reserve, more than 115 of which are dedicated to organic food production. The Prairie Crossing Farm and Casey Farm are both certified organic farms located in the Liberty Prairie Reserve. These farmers are growing a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains and are also offering eggs, pork, and beef. These Lake County farms provide food to customers throughout the Chicago region.

Farming in the Liberty Prairie Reserve has a bright and dynamic future. The 2013 Local Technical Assistance Grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) also produced the Lake County Sustainable Local Foods Systems Report. Progress continues on bringing more of the agricultural land in the Reserve into local food production, with the transition of the centennial Casey Farm to local organic vegetable farming by Radical Root Farm beginning in 2014. Learn more about the Liberty Prairie Foundation’s sustainable local food systems work.

Conservation

LPR CONSERVATION_editedThe Liberty Prairie Reserve’s natural resources are extraordinary, thanks to its diversity and quality of habitat. Much of the Reserve is connected in one large mosaic of land and water. This has enabled the Reserve to sustain a wide variety of native wildlife – at least 300 native plants and animals. The Reserve contains a surprisingly wide variety of habitats: several types of prairies, woodlands, oak savannas, a graminoid fen, marshes, sedge meadows, and stream corridors. Some of the habitats, like the fen and wet prairie, are more globally threatened than the rainforest.

The Liberty Prairie Reserve contains three Illinois State Nature Preserves – Almond Marsh, Liberty Prairie, and Oak Openings. Only the highest quality natural areas in the state qualify for inclusion in the nature preserves system. Dedication is the strongest protection that can be given to land in Illinois, and provides permanent protection.

The Reserve supports 28 threatened and endangered species. An Illinois Department of Natural Resources survey on one section of Bull’s Brook found 15 different species of fish, including two state-threatened species as well as a 14-inch northern pike. After a 100-year absence, Sandhill Cranes are once again successfully nesting in Illinois, and the Reserve is one of the places where they are raising young. The Sandhill Crane is one of 57 species of animals found in the Reserve that are listed as species in the greatest need to conservation by the state of Illinois.

Map

Liberty Prairie Reserve MAP LARGE_editedThe Liberty Prairie Reserve is located in the Libertyville and Grayslake areas and is bounded by Route 120, Route 137, and the eastern edge of the Independence Grove Forest Preserve just east of Route 21.

The Prairie Crossing conservation community, Prairie Crossing Farm, and Independence Grove Forest Preserve are located within the Liberty Prairie Reserve.

Click here to download a map of the Liberty Prairie Reserve.