WESTON — The first thing you notice when you pull into the small parking lot at Weston Cemetery Prairie is how colorful everything is.
Yellows, purples, oranges, whites and greens. And that’s just the wildflowers. It doesn’t count the birds, butterflies and dragonflies of various hues darting about under the blue sky.
The second thing you notice is how thick the vegetation is.
There are no trails here, and walking through the prairie gives you a newfound appreciation of the challenges faced by pioneers who settled this area.
This is not a restored or “recreated” prairie. Thanks to its designation as a cemetery in 1870, this 5-acre patch remained untouched by the plow. It is a remnant prairie that retained original plant material.
Only one one-hundredth of a percent of the Prairie State’s original prairie remains, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
“In McLean County, this is just about it,” Master Naturalist Mary Jo Adams of rural Carlock said of the prairie, which was designated as a state nature preserve in 1972.
“Most of the larger prairies that we’re seeing now are recreations of a prairies and they just don’t have the incredible diversity that a true natural native prairie is going to have,” she said.
“There’s so much stuff here,” said Adams, pointing to prairie dock, compass plant, Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, prairie coreopsis, pale purple coneflower, lobelia, lead plant, New Jersey tea and wild quinine among the plants blooming when we walked through the prairie on Wednesday.
To reach the preserve from Bloomington-Normal, take Interstate 55 to the U.S. 24/Chenoa exit. Travel east toward Fairbury and watch for a sign pointing to the entrance, just east of North 3360 East Road.
“What’s kind of neat is you just wander through here,” said Adams.
There are no trails. You may be able to follow the path of someone who hiked before, but you are likely to be blazing your own trail at some point.
That’s why it’s a good idea to wear good shoes and long pants.
Bring your sense of adventure — and bug repellant. Watch out for the hidden clumps of prairie dropseed, a type of prairie grass, waiting to trip you.
I say this not to deter you but to prepare you. Even if you decide forging your way through the prairie is not for you, the view from the parking lot is worth the visit. Bring a pair of binoculars to better see the wildflowers as well as the birds and butterflies.
As Adams says, “This is wonderful because it’s rare and it’s a part of Illinois history that I think everybody should value.”