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Our History


Grand Prairie Friends serves as a not-for-profit, conservation land trust whose mission is to preserve and restore natural communities in east-central Illinois and promote an understanding and appreciation of natural resources.


Since 1984, this organization has included volunteers, members, donors, staff and a nine-person Board of Directors who share a commitment to Preserve, Restore and Promote natural areas throughout east-central Illinois.

Prairie Roots

Grand Prairie Friends is named for the organization’s location- the Grand Prairie Division within Illinois.  The Grand Prairie Division encompasses the majority of the central Illinois region, stretching north to Ogle County, south to Shelby County, west to Henry County and east to the Indiana border.


The Grand Prairie was formerly dominated by tall-grass prairie ecosystems, occasional forest and wet potholes. This area was often referred to as an “endless sea of grass”. Chester Loomis, a man traveling through the Grand Prairie in 1825 recorded in his journal that “…even while sitting on horseback I can still not see over the tall grass to find my destination”.


Today, the vast majority of the land within the Grand Prairie Division is under private ownership and devoted to row crops or development. To date, roughly only .001% of original prairie remains in the state. Many of these remnants can be located at various Grand Prairie Friends preserves.   



GPF was formed in 1984, when a group of citizens joined together with the motivation to protect the Shortline Railroad Prairie, a 6-acre remnant prairie along an abandoned railroad right-of-way in Champaign County. GPF Leaders, Wendy Garrison and Rich Raspet, donated the funds needed to purchase this first property, and thus begin the legacy of land acquisition for this great organization. Grand Prairie Friends now owns over 1,060 acres across east-central Illinois in Champaign, Coles, Iroquois, Shelby and Vermilion counties. GPF relies on our member donations, along with grant opportunities to purchase and preserve these lands. Specifically, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Lumpkin Family Foundation, The Conservation Fund and Grand Victoria Foundation have preserved many of GPF’s natural areas.


The majority of Grand Prairie Friends preserves are registered or designation as either nature preserves or land & water reserves through the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission. This provides an additional commitment for Grand Prairie Friends to maintain our high standards of restoration, management and land-use on preserve sites.


Grand Prairie Friends is dedicated to conducting natural areas restoration which supports the native biodiversity of the land. Habitat restoration methods include certified or locally-sourced native plants in conjunction with management plans which emphasize best-practices such as prescribed fire, invasive and deer management.

GPF models sustainable farming practices in our 200-acres of row-crop agriculture at Warbler Ridge, most of which are enrolled in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program. Partnerships are an important part of restoration work. GPF works with a variety of federal, state and local agencies and fellow- conservation organizations, to complete great projects on GPF, private and public lands.

Loda Cemetery Prairie
14 acres of hand collected & sewn buffer restoration.
Embarras Ridge (Warbler Ridge)
141 acres of maple tree thinning & invasive removal.
Warbler Ridge Conservation Area
20 acres of pollinator planting.
Warbler Ridge Conservation Area
99 acres of invasive, timber stand improvement & reforestation.
Warbler Ridge Conservation Area
9 acres of wetlands construction.
Edna Edwards Burnett
One day planting of 100 native tress with Champaign Rotary Club.
Warbler Ridge Conservation Area
10 acres of artificial bat habitat restoration including over 2,000 trees, twelve bat habitat structures, 60 acres of cover crop and a 3 acre wetland.
Northern Prairies
Prairie specialist added to staff for stewardship
Warbler Ridge Conservation Area
50,000 trees planted with an electric deer fence protecting 40 acres, 42 acres of cover crop, 95 acres of timber stand improvement.


Grand Prairie Friends believes that creating natural area stewards for the future is the key to ensuring the preservation of the land in perpetuity (forever!). All lands owned by the organization are open to the public for hiking and other preservation-compatible nature exploration, as defined on the Explore Our Preserves section of this website.

Educational events are held throughout the year for the public to learn more about the work of Grand Prairie Friends, including monthly stewardship work days. Volunteers at any stage of life or ability are always welcome.


Grand Prairie Friends is honored to be a partner in the University of Illinois Master Naturalist Education trainings and a variety of other speaking/ tour occasions. Educational student internships are also available on seasonal rotations.

New Grand Prairie Friends Branding

As Grand Prairie Friends enters a new era, we feel that our logo should reflect our mission to preserve and restore natural communities in east-central Illinois and to promote an understanding and appreciation of natural resources. By modernizing the logo we aim to convey that we are a long-lasting, responsible organization that can be trusted – something we feel is an important aspect of building and retaining relationships with our members, volunteers, donors, and communities. 

  • The circular shape of the symbol represents protection and conservation

  • The lined shape at the bottom of the symbol represents the land of the prairie and pathways for restoring and preserving the places that Grand Prairie Friends protects

  • The grass represents the prairie and plant life of the region that is so important to the ecosystem

  • Green was chosen as a representation of growth and forward momentum

  • Yellow was chosen as a representation of the bright colors of prairie flowers, sunshine, and prosperity

  • The logo type is bold but slightly playful - a choice made to invoke a feeling of friendship as well as for ease of readability, reproduction on merchandise, signage, print, and web.

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