Tour Locations | Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL
LOCATION 28 | Interstate 55: St. Louis, MO to Springfield, IL
Before the earliest settlers came to Illinois, nearly 2/3 of the state was covered by prairie. Prairie vegetation consists mostly of tall grass and flowering plants with very deep roots, which allows the plants to survive the cold Illinois winters, the hot dry summers, and to recover quickly from prairie fires.
Prairie fires were a big concern for the earliest settlers. Fires happened often, usually due to lightning strikes, and spread quickly across the flat windblown plain. No doubt that the land we are over now was engulfed in flames on numerous occasions both before and after the earliest settlers arrived. While there are plenty of trees around us now, frequent prairie fires prevented forests and many trees from developing. The only trees the earliest settlers encountered when they arrived were along creeks and streams which provided a natural barrier to some of the fires.
When the earliest settlers arrived 200 years ago, Illinois had more than 34,000 square miles of prairie. There are now less than 4 square miles, as most of the prairie land has been converted to farmland. Illinois ranks 49th among states retaining their original vegetation appearance.
Efforts are being made in Illinois to restore some of the land to its pre-settler appearance, including the land between and on both sides of the Interstate.