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Construction Over Bell Bowl Prairie Continues Later This Year

John White Addresses Rockford Airport Authority
Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
John White Addresses Rockford Airport Authority

The last minute appearance of rusty patched bumble bee stalled construction on a project at the Chicago Rockford International Airport that would destroy some of the last remaining remnant prairie in the state. Now some conservationists want to persuade the Airport Authority to reconsider their plans.

Back in the mid-1970s, John White designed and directed the Illinois Natural Areas Inventory—Illinois’s first statewide survey of significant natural resources. It was in that process that the Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL was identified and added to the state’s inventory.

Nearly 50 years later, White’s back in Rockford trying to convince the Airport Authority to protect the prairie instead of building over it.

“I drove 183 miles to be here today,” said White. “And as I drove north to Winnebago County, I went past just one prairie that is comparable to the Bell Bowl Prairie in terms of its size and its quality.”

Officials from the Chicago Rockford Airport have suggested transplanting some of the rare species of plants that exist in the Bell Bowl Prairie. But White’s not optimistic about those plans.

“Bell Bowl Prairie is a rare treasure, and it's fragile,” said White. “If you try to move it, it will disintegrate and it will just die away and be replaced by weeds.”

Zack Oakley with the Airport Authority confirmed that construction will begin again come November when the rusty patched bumble bee’s foraging season is over.

Juanpablo covers environmental, substandard housing and police-community relations. He’s been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office in Chicago. As a civic reporting fellow at City Bureau, a non-profit news organization that focuses on Chicago’s South Side, Ramirez-Franco produced print and audio stories about the Pilsen neighborhood. Before that, he was a production intern at the Third Coast International Audio Festival and the rural America editorial intern at In These Times magazine. Ramirez-Franco grew up in northern Illinois. He is a graduate of Knox College.