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The Chiwaukee Prairie, A Natural Treasure
About the Prairie
The Chiwaukee Prairie is a State Natural Area in Pleasant Prairie located south of the City of Kenosha along the Lake Michigan Shoreline, east of Sheridan Road (Highway 32), and both north and south of 116th Street.
The over 400-acre Chiwaukee Prairie is the most species-rich prairie in Wisconsin. The diversity of the vegetation is unequaled with more than 400 species of native plants, including five state-endangered and five state-threatened species. The plant communities found in Chiwaukee include wet prairie as the dominant cover, and with some sandy, dry prairie on the higher ridges.
Sedge meadows and emergent marsh vegetation occupy the deeper swales. There are tall grasses and oak openings along the western and southern portions of the preserve. The prairie contains nationally significant archeological and geological features.
In addition to the plants, there are birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates, which create an impressive collection of biodiversity. The prairie was formed 13,000 years ago, when Lake Michigan receded and prairie plants followed the edge. As a former lakebed, the prairie stands on beach sand covered with about 10 inches of topsoil.
The northern portion of the Prairie extends as far north as 80th Street and contains southeastern Wisconsin's most unusual topographical feature: the Kenosha Dunes.
The dunes were created by the winds and the wave action of the receding Lake Michigan. Vegetation such as sand reed grass, which binds sand together, eventually took root and helped to create the relatively stable dune formations.
The area which is atop an ancient forest supports a variety of wildlife. The dunes were once owned by the Wisconsin Electric Power Company (now known as WE Energies), which considered building a power plant at the site. That concept changed when in the 1970's an alternative site in south central Pleasant Prairie was selected for the power plant.
In 1993, the company donated the area to The Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin who in turn turned it over to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The Dunes was then declared protected as a State Natural Area.