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Chicago Author Finds His Escape On The Prairie

By Justin Breen | May 2, 2017 5:34am | Updated on May 5, 2017 10:21am
 Arthur Melville Pearson
Arthur Melville Pearson
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CHICAGO — Arthur Melville Pearson is a self-described "city guy" who heads to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to recharge his batteries.

Since 1996, the Pullman resident has volunteered at the prairie, located at the former home of the Joliet Arsenal. He's seen a handful of coyote pups tumble out of the tallgrasses, witnessed a small squadron of sandhill cranes, watched the birth of bison calves, documented frog calls, and removed invasive species like honeysuckle, buckthorn, osage orange and garlic mustard.

"It’s a big, dynamic, wide open landscape, teeming with all kinds of plants and animals," Pearson said of Midewin, which now has about 2,500 acres of restored grassland, with a goal of 19,000. "As a city guy, living in the third mostly densely populated metro region in the country, I need Midewin for balance. To recharge my batteries. For a little peace and quiet."

The native of suburban Homewood and graduate of the University of Illinois was a longtime actor working in regional theaters throughout the country before turning his attention to writing about nature. In April, he released the book "Force of Nature: George Fell, Founder of the Natural Areas Movement," a biography of Fell, whose efforts to protect natural lands in Illinois launched a movement to protect lands across the country and world.

He also is currently the Chicago Program Director for the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, which supports land conservation in the Chicago region, including at Midewin.

When Pearson first moved to Pullman, he heard about Midewin and the efforts to restore the land.

"It really fired my imagination that what once was the largest and most sophisticated munitions complex in the world would be returned to its natural prairie state," he said. "That’s right out of the Daniel Burnham playbook to 'make no little plan, so they have no magic to stir men's blood … Make big plans; aim high.'”

Midewin, which was established in 1996 and is about an hour from Chicago, now contains a herd of a few dozen bison, which were introduced in 2015. Pearson said the bison represent further proof of Midewin's return to its "true prairie landscape."

"More and more of the pieces are falling back into place," he said. "More and more, Midewin is functioning healthy and well as the true prairie landscape that once blanketed our state."