The Book

“Saving Peacock Prairie: The Grassroots Campaign to Protect a Wild Urban Prairie” is the story of Chicago's last remaining undisturbed black soil tall-grass prairie.  A small band of people in the 1960s bravely struggled for three years to save it.  

They experienced many set-backs, but with the help of Openlands they finally won in 1968.  Thus began the environmental movement and the public's growing recognition of the value of prairies. 

Recent Comments:

Steven I. Apfelbaum, Chairman, Applied Ecological Services, Inc.:

“The protection of rare natural areas always seems to teeter on the brink and must fall into the lap and become the focus of the love and attention of rare individuals to be successful.  This engaging and well-written story tells of this convergence and success at protecting a very special place, the James Woodworth Prairie Preserve.”

Steve Packard, Director, National Audubon Society-Chicago Region:

“Bernice Popelka tells an inspiring story of grassroots conservation.  Her group of determined friends and neighbors put prairie conservation into the news and into the consciousness of the public. ‘Saving Peacock Prairie’ gives the nuts and bolts of how they did it.”

Dr. Stuart Wagenius, Conservation Scientist, Chicago Botanic Garden:

“Popelka has written a fast-paced and uplifting book about the successful fight to save Peacock Prairie from destruction in the 1960s.  I love visiting this precious prairie gem surrounded by sprawling suburban Cook County, IL, and hope this story will propel more folks to visit.”

“The book is a wonderful account of important happenings.  Margaret Mead’s observation, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world’ is a concept that wears well over the years.”

Jill Allread, Board Chair, Openlands:

“A story for all ages, ‘Saving Peacock Prairie’ is an inspiring reminder to never give up protecting nature, even when faced with daunting challenges.  Openlands, with a fifty-year history of helping conserve nature and open space, is proud to have partnered with Bernice Popelka and other caring citizens to help save Peacock Prairie for future generations.”

Debra Shore, Founding Editor, Chicago WILDERNESS Magazine:

"Hats off to Bernice Popelka!  What a wonderful and inspiring story. . . and a lesson to us all!  That passion and persistence can pay off, that a small group of dedicated people can achieve momentous results.  We the people thank you, the plants, animals and gene pool of James Woodworth/Peacock Prairie thank you."

Curt Meine, Ph.D., Director for Conservation Biology and History, Center for Humans and Nature, Senior Fellow, Aldo Leopold Foundation:

"The James Woodworth/Peacock Prairie is a rare ecological treasure.  I first came across this special place when I was growing up in nearby Des Plaines, Illinois.  I did not then understand the prairie's unique ecological quality, or the remarkable story of its survival amid the sea of Chicago's suburban development.  But I did value, in some sort of deep and unspoken way, its inherent beauty.  In sensed its unusual status as a living reminder of the vast prairie ecosystem that once defined the Midwest, and that yielded the region's wealth and character and identity.  I found unexpected i9nspiration in encountering its tall grasses and blossoming forbs.  Now, in reading Bernice Popelka's story, I can fully appreciate the human effort that made my own personal encounter--and those of so many others--possible.  Conservation is a never-ending effort to protect and renew the beauty, diversity, and health of our landscapes, and to sustain our own communities in the process.  The story of Peacock Prairie is a story of conservation-minded citizens who led the way.  In so doing, they made it possible for future generations to make their own connections to the prairies of our past, and to the promise of prairie in our future."

Dr. Rutherford H. Platt, Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Ecological Cities Project:

"Peacock Prairie in Glenview, Illinois, is one of the last remnants of native prairie in the Chicago region.  In the 1960s this five-acre tract was owned by a realty company and scheduled for development.  Through the grit and determination of Bernice Popelka and her friends as well as the support of Openlands and descendants of James Woodworth, the site was permanently preserved and now serves as a treasured resource for education, research, and public enjoyment.  Ms. Popelka has performed another 'labor of love' in writing this book which provides a colorful, lively, and detailed chronicle of how the James Woodworth/Peacock Prairie came to be what it is today.  This book will hopefully inspire others to follow her example and fight for other patches of nature wherever they happen to be."

Gerould Wilhelm, PhD, Principal Botanist/Ecologist, Conservation Design Forum:

"Here is the story of one of the first efforts to save a landscape for its own sake.  Not because it was a great, remote, majestic scene.  Not because it was a source of native plants for the garden.  Not because it served as a buffer between the wanted and the unwanted.  It was saved because it represented the remnant, irreplaceable, aboriginal genetic memory of a place like none other.  Inspired and informed by passionate albeit unsung heroes such as Bob Betz and Ray Schulenberg, 'Saving Peacock Prairie' is the story of a gentle indomitable soul who learned to see the ineffable beauty and intrinsic value of a forsaken remnant of living earth, a remnant that had been unceremoniously 'zoned commercial'.  If you are interested in knowing the story of a sacred land surrounded by things made by people, things that rust, crumble, or go to weeds, read how a few unique but dauntless people struggled to help an urban community understand the importance of having transcendent, self-renewing value within it.  Here is a story that comes out right!"