Hear from the Author

Restoring Prairie, Woods, and Pond: How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Difference

Author, Laurie Lawlor

As a writer for the past 40 years, prairies as ecosys­tems have had an abid­ing fas­ci­na­tion for me. My first book, an his­tor­i­cal nov­el pub­lished in 1986, Addie Across the Prairie, was inspired by my great grand­par­ents’ Dako­ta Ter­ri­to­ry home­steading expe­ri­ence in the vast prairies east of the Mis­souri Riv­er. I was intrigued by what it must have been like for a young girl to adapt to this new, total­ly for­eign envi­ron­ment — an enor­mous, com­plex land­scape called “the Land of Begin Again” that once stretched from hori­zon to horizon. 

My most recent book, Restor­ing Prairie, Woods, and Pond: How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Dif­fer­ence (Hol­i­day House, April 2023), full-col­or non­fic­tion for read­ers age 10–14, pro­vid­ed me with anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to inves­ti­gate this mar­velous, mys­te­ri­ous envi­ron­ment. This time my research took me to Wis­con­sin where prairies once thrived before the ear­ly 19th century. 

I orig­i­nal­ly dis­cov­ered the idea for this book thanks to a friend and fel­low envi­ron­men­tal activist who sug­gest­ed that I vis­it Eagle Nature Trail. This remark­able con­ser­va­tion project in the small vil­lage of Eagle, WI has restored and main­tained native prairie and two oth­er ecosys­tems: an ephemer­al pond and woods, on what had once been an over­grown, garbage-strewn eight-acre lot.  With only a bare-bones bud­get, local vol­un­teers man­aged to cre­ate an out­door class­room and com­mu­ni­ty resource that high­lights native her­itage environments. 

The first time I walked the trail, which con­nects the local ele­men­tary school and the pub­lic library, I was imme­di­ate­ly smit­ten. What impressed me was the spon­ta­neous joy of a group of third graders with clip­boards, paper, and pen­cils who sat cross-legged on the ground beside the prairie sketch­ing tow­er­ing coneflowers.

I became even more intrigued when I heard about the restora­tion project’s ear­ly turn­ing point in spring 2010. A few hardy vol­un­teers trekked through the aban­doned lot’s thick buck­thorn and oth­er inva­sives and dis­cov­ered some­thing remark­able: native hoary ver­vain. Frog song revealed anoth­er hid­den gem: an almost inac­ces­si­ble ephemer­al pond—a rare wet­land. A few strug­gling wood­land natives pro­vid­ed evi­dence of orig­i­nal forest.

The for­got­ten wilder­ness wasn’t a dead zone after all.

I spent months inter­view­ing ear­ly trail project orga­niz­ers, teach­ers, vol­un­teers, and local folks—everyone from librar­i­ans and ear­ly res­i­dents to vol­un­teer fire­men and busi­ness own­ers.  Pri­ma­ry source detec­tive work took me to local his­tor­i­cal soci­eties and uni­ver­si­ty libraries, where I did a deep dive into ear­ly let­ters, diaries, news­pa­pers, maps, pho­tographs, orig­i­nal sur­vey­or jour­nals, and research com­piled about ear­ly Indige­nous peo­ples who made this part of Wis­con­sin their home. Prairie Enthu­si­asts Landown­er Ser­vices Coor­di­na­tor Dan Carter was essen­tial in help­ing direct me to the last remain­ing unplowed rem­nant of the enor­mous Eagle Prairie that once cov­ered this part of Wauke­sha County. 

I was priv­i­leged over the course of a year — despite the chal­lenges of Covid-19 — to wit­ness and take part in vis­its to the trail with stu­dents from pre‑K through fifth grade at Eagle Ele­men­tary.  Their spon­ta­neous com­ments, poet­ry, and sto­ries about being out­doors are an essen­tial part of the book.

My goal has always been to find ways to inspire kids (and grown-ups) to under­stand and love the land where they live so that they will help pro­tect it. I was espe­cial­ly pleased by a starred review from Kirkus that cap­tures so well the descrip­tion of Restor­ing Prairie, Woods, and Pond: How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Dif­fer­ence: “This is activism at its most acces­si­ble: the beau­ti­ful strug­gles of a region and com­mu­ni­ty to make a large dif­fer­ence in a small world. A mag­i­cal and time­ly sto­ry of ecosys­tems restored to their for­mer glory.”

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in The Prairie Pro­mot­er, a newslet­ter from The Prairie Enthu­si­asts, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2023

Books for a Bet­ter Earth series
writ­ten by Lau­rie Lawlor
Hol­i­day House, April 2023