Last month I spent a few days in Indiana and took the opportunity to visit Taylor University in Upland, Indiana to see and photograph its famous prairie planted by Ray Schulenberg. I had seen the prairie many years earlier but at the time, was not aware of who planted it or of its significance in the history of prairie restoration. This time I approached the prairie with keen interest, and a deep appreciation of the time and effort that went into the project.
Ray Schulenberg is perhaps best known for his planting of the prairie (since named after him) at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, begun in 1963. But Schulenberg, who was honored for lifetime achievement at the 24th North American Prairie Conference in Normal, Illinois this summer, has planted scores of prairies at colleges, universities and other public spaces across the midwest. Schulenberg could be considered the Johnny Appleseed of prairie restoration.
The university has grown and been built up over the years. Although the campus is relatively compact, I could not, at first, get my bearings among all the new buildings nor find the prairie. I flagged down a campus police officer and asked for help and wondered if he could direct me to the prairie. I received a big blank stare. When I tried: “where is the area they burn every year?”, his eyes lit up and I was directed to a spot on the edge of campus, near the intersection of two state highways.
One would imagine that east central Indiana is out of the prairie region of the midwestern United States and that a prairie planting would be a bit out of its range. But, as I know from experience, prairie remnants–especially along railroad rights-of-way–are not uncommon from Upland, through Marion, and on to Wabash, Indiana.
I don’t know if prairie once grew on the spot of Schulenberg’s prairie, it certainly does fit in with the landscape.