Monthly Program – October 2012 ~ 50-Year Celebrations!!!

On Monday, October 8, 2012 MAPS members and guests experienced a Special Educational Celebration: 50th Anniversaries of The Schulenberg Prairie, The Sterling Morton Library, and the Illinois Prairie Path.

The evening began with a short history of The Schulenberg Prairie, named after Ray Schulenberg.  Schulenberg took on the task of developing the prairie at a time when the land was degraded.  Schulenberg was interested in collecting seeds, researching which plants could be grown on black prairie soil and spent a great deal of time propagating.

The May Watts connection to the Schulenberg Prairie began back in the 1940s and 50s when she led hundreds of students through the prairie on nature exploration walks.

A slide show presentation of the Schulenberg Prairie was a delight of the evening with a number of member photographs projected.

The Sterling Morton Library (as we know it) was constructed in 1963.  Did you now that the Founders Room was the original site of the library?   We learned that J. Sterling Morton had a passion for trees—so much so that the family motto was “let’s plant trees.”

The Library ‘s 50th anniversary focuses not only on the library but also on May Watts.  Watts had an early exposure to the natural world.  At the University of Chicago, Harry Chandler Coles became an influential person in Watts’ life.  Coles is considered the father of ecology.  Watts spent a significant amount of time studying the natural world.  Later, it was Jean Morton Cudahy who brought Watts to the Morton Arboretum to teach classes.  Her legacy was profound at the Morton Arboretum.

Bob Sobie talked about the 50th anniversary of the Illinois Prairie Path.   The Illinois Prairie Path (IPP) is a 62 mile multiuse rail to trail.  It all started with the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad.

On September 30, 1963 May Watts wrote a letter to the editor of a Chicago newspaper in which she says “. . . We are human beings.  We are able to walk upright on two feet.  We need a footpath. . .”

A small but dedicated group started working on converting the railroad right of way to the IPP.   The Morton Arboretum supplied people who could talk about the plants.  They began to clear the path.  The path opened up in pieces with ribbon cutting ceremonies.

During construction of the path, the small group of May Watts followers thought to incorporate the IPP on July 15, 1968.  There were setbacks.  Municipalities didn’t want the prairie path, costs for purchasing limestone skyrocketed, The Chicago Northwestern train had a serious accident, and a world-wide insurance crisis caused the IPP to lose their ability to obtain liability insurance.  The group prevailed.

May Watts is widely considered the mother of the rails to trails movement.

You can become a member of the IPP by going to their website at: .

With 67 members in the audience, we’d like to thank our presenters for a delightful and an informative evening.