Celebrating 15 years of the Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie
Glenview, IL 60026
The story of the 32.5 acre site known as Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie is the story of change and adaptation. It begins over 13,000 years ago, when major geological events like the movement and melting of the glaciers covering the Midwest helped shape the vast sea of grassland that covered North America for thousands of years.
Native cultures lived off the rich abundance of plants and animals. Settlers in the 19th and early 20th centuries discovered the gently rolling landscape and rich organic soil ideal for farming. But almost as soon as it was dubbed the Prairie State, Illinois began to lose the very features that inspired the nickname. In the 1800s, Illinois had 22 million acres of prairie land, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. As the U.S. population grew and expanded westward, prairies were plowed under for crops and grazing to the point that almost none were left by the 1900s. By 1978, less than 2,300 acres of prairie land remained throughout Illinois. Today a prairie once again graces Glenview’s landscape, and serves as a reminder of pre-settlement times. Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie is a place to learn about our natural heritage through both indoor and outdoor exhibits, to enjoy the quiet gifts of nature and to discover what prairie ecosystems can teach us about conservation.
Who is Kent Fuller?
Kent Fuller has been a long-time advocate for the environment and open spaces. Kent grew up in Glenview when it was still surrounded by farmland. He became interested in how urbanization affected natural resources. He studied forestry at Penn State University. After working in Pennsylvania for the Park Acquisition Program, Kent moved back to Illinois to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Chicago. Kent was appointed to the Glenview Plan Commission from 1968-1989, and during his tenure helped preserve The Grove National Historic Landmark. Kent then went to work for the Environmental Protection Agency and was elected to the Glenview Village Board of Trustees where he served from 1989-2001. During his time as a Trustee, the Navy base in Glenview closed and Kent helped create The Glen and the Air Station Prairie. Kent chaired the Village of Glenview’s Natural Resource Commission from its inception in 2001 through 2010. Kent and his wife, Jerry, have been volunteers for many years with the North Branch Restoration Project. This group of volunteers oversees restoration efforts at sites along the north branch of the Chicago River. To honor all of Kent’s conservation efforts, the Village of Glenview renamed this site from Air Station Prairie (as a tribute to the former navy base) to Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie in 2010.
Ecosystem of Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie
Like all tallgrass prairies, there is more to Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie than what first meets the eye. It is a unique ecological system made up of grasses and forbs (non-woody flowering plants) with very few trees. Deep roots help plants survive droughts and fires. The hot summers and cold winters, the shape of the land and how it drains, the amount of rain and the soil content are all important factors in prairie formation.
Beginning in March, prairie flowers form a slow-motion fireworks display that culminates in a riot of colors in late August and September. From spring to fall the prairie sings with the sounds of birds, frogs and insects. You can even hear the wind ebbing and flowing as it is captured by the tall grasses. Over 160 indigenous plants have been identified at Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, including two Illinois state-endangered species.
Numerous animals make their home here, some of which are highly dependent on the fragile prairie habitat. A sampling of our residents includes two types of crayfish, the Plains garter snake, the painted turtle, the American toad, the Western chorus frog, the short-tailed shrew, the savannah sparrow and the red-winged blackbird. Others, including raccoons, coyotes, deer and red-tailed hawks are often visitors to the prairie.
Evelyn Pease Tyner Interpretive Center
The Tyner Center located at Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie is an excellent example of how a man-made structure can harmonize with the natural environment. It is named after the late Dr. Evelyn Tyner a longtime Glenview resident, volunteer and staunch prairie advocate who spent many years working to protect and enhance our natural resources. While the interior of the Center provides teaching and storage space, visitors don’t need to enter to learn. Many of the exhibits providing information on the prairie’s plants and animals, wetlands, soil conservation and gardening are on the outside of the building. Surrounding the Center are a number of “interpretive zones,” including a wetland deck, a sidewalk timeline and history wall, and paths extending around the prairie. The building is perched atop a set of stilts. This allows rainwater to flow beneath the building, which helps maintain the natural drainage patterns of the area.
Prairie Protection & Restoration
Today, nearly all of Illinois’ original tallgrass prairie is gone, swallowed up by agriculture and development. It is vital to protect and restore or reclaim these remaining remnants because of their biological, economic, and cultural importance. They create wildlife habitats for hundreds of species and pollinators; they help improve water quality and aid in soil conservation; they provide educational opportunities; and so much more. Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie is part of the Chicago Wilderness Alliance, which works to save these fragile ecosystems and encourages people to become more aware and involved in the preservation of these ecosystems.
Originally developed and financed by the Village of Glenview, the Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie and the Tyner Interpretive Center are now owned and operated by the Glenview Park District. An agreement transferring the ownership from the Village to the Park District earned an Intergovernmental Cooperation Award from the Illinois Parks & Recreation Association in 2007. Since then, the preservation and restoration of Fuller Air Station Prairie has been a priority of the Park District.