Restoring Prairie, Woods, and Pond

How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Difference

Book Description

Restor­ing Prairie, Woods, and Pond: How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Dif­fer­ence is about activism at the com­mu­ni­ty level—and tells how a small vil­lage in south­east­ern Wis­con­sin has trans­formed an eight-acre, munic­i­pal­ly owned dump­ing ground and waste­land into a nature trail with three dis­tinct ecosys­tems: a prairie, wood­land, and ephemer­al pond wet­land. The trail runs from Eagle Ele­men­tary to the pub­lic library. Illus­trat­ed with col­or pho­tos, the book explains how this trail has become a valu­able out­door classroom—even dur­ing COVID-19—a STEM teach­ing cen­ter, a respite for peo­ple young and old, and a place for com­mu­ni­ty engagement.

One of the ear­ly turn­ing points in the project came in spring 2010 when a few hardy vol­un­teers trekked through the aban­doned lot’s thick buck­thorn and oth­er inva­sives and dis­cov­ered some­thing remark­able: a few hardy native pur­ple cone­flow­ers and hoary ver­vain. This proved to be evi­dence of Eagle Prairie, what had once been the largest pre-set­tle­ment prairies in this part of Wis­con­sin. Frog song revealed anoth­er hid­den gem: an almost inac­ces­si­ble ephemer­al pond—a rare wet­land.  Mean­while, a few strug­gling wood­land natives pro­vid­ed evi­dence of a small forest.

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

With only a bare-bones bud­get, a group of volunteers—everyone from local fire­men and high school stu­dents, to local busi­ness own­ers and Boy Scouts—came togeth­er to pitch in to clear inva­sives, cut buck­thorn, grade the trail, and plant native prairie, wood­land, and wet­land species.

Honors and Recognition

  • Blue­ber­ry Edu­ca­tors Resources 2023, Evanston Pub­lic Library
  • Nature Gen­er­a­tion Green Earth Book Awards shortlist
  • Soci­ety of Mid­land Authors, Chil­dren’s Read­ing Round­table Award for Chil­dren’s Non­fic­tion, Hon­or book


  • Lau­rie Lawlor and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Dawn-Marie Stac­cia pic­tured out­side the Eagle Nature Trail Cel­e­bra­tion, spon­sored in part by the Alice Bak­er Memo­r­i­al Library. 20 May 2023.
Restoring Prairie visitors

Still time to enjoy sum­mer weather!

Intre­pid eco-trav­el­ers from Evanston, IL Pub­lic Library, and mem­bers of the Blue­ber­ry Award Com­mit­tee for great nature books for kids, Lin­da Bala and Martha Mey­er, made a trip to Eagle Nature Trail, Eagle, WI, inspired by Restor­ing Prairie, Woods, and Pond: How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Difference.

  • Waukesha County Land Conservancy
    Wauke­sha Coun­ty Land Con­ser­van­cy’s annu­al meet­ing on May 31, 2023, in Delafield, Wis­con­sin, cel­e­brat­ed land and water protection. 

Rewil­d­ing Our­selves: a Project of Hope [Mid­west USA],” Lau­rie Lawlor, Rewil­d­ing Suc­cess­es, 20 Mar 2024

Author Lau­rie Lawlor explores nature in her lat­est book,” Jane Amme­son,, 9 July 2023

Hear From the AuthorRestor­ing Prairie, Woods, and Pond: How a Small Trail Can Make a Big Dif­fer­ence, Lau­rie Lawlor, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in The Prairie Pro­mot­er, a newslet­ter from The Prairie Enthu­si­asts, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring 2023

It Comes Down to Com­mu­ni­ty,” Kim­ber­ly Mack­ows­ki, The Park Next Door, 8 April 2023 

Books for a Bet­ter Earth Bloom at Hol­i­day House,” Nathalie op de Beeck, Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, 23 March 2023

Delight­ed to find the Restor­ing Prairie book trail­er fea­tured in Shelf Aware­ness, Mon­day, April 24, 2023!

Turn­ing the Page on a Trail Restora­tion,” Kim­ber­ly Mack­ows­ki, The Park Next Door, 22 May 2023

Rec­om­mend­ed in “Nature Scoop,” Toni Stahl, Habi­tat Ambas­sador, 25 May 2023

Weed­man award­ed for efforts to restore aban­doned lot into nat­ur­al par­adise,” Lau­rie Lawlor, Wild Ones Jour­nal, Native Plants, Nat­ur­al Land­scapes, Sum­mer 2023, Vol. 36, No. 2, page 22–23. With per­mis­sion of Bar­bara A. Schmitz, Wild Ones Jour­nal Editor.

“ ‘Labor of love’ inspires book on nature trail,” Bar­bara A. Schmitz, Wild Ones Jour­nal, Native Plants, Nat­ur­al Land­scapes, Sum­mer 2023, Vol. 36, No. 2, page 23. With per­mis­sion of Bar­bara A. Schmitz, Wild Ones Jour­nal Editor. 

Local author looks to nature to inspire young read­ers,” Audrey Bod­ine, Evanston Round­Table, 14 June 2023.

Reviews and Comments

“More than a sim­ple account of a wilder­ness restora­tion project. 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.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

“Many envi­ron­men­tal books and sto­ries are tales of woe; this one isn’t. Lau­rie Lawlor writes about a com­mu­ni­ty project in Eagle, Wis­con­sin, that turned an eight-acre dump­ing ground into a nature trail for chil­dren. The Eagle Nature Trail orga­ni­za­tion includes Dave Traver, a library board mem­ber; Jean Weed­man, an expe­ri­enced prairie restor­er; and a cadre of mir­a­cle-mak­ing volunteers.

Writ­ing for mid­dle grades and above, Lawlor pro­vides an overview of the nat­ur­al and cul­tur­al his­to­ry of the land. This land was (and is) trea­sured by the Native Amer­i­cans who were removed.

By the time the vol­un­teers began to make the trail, the land was over­grown with inva­sive buck­thorn, gar­lic mus­tard and more. Dumped chain-link fences, tires, shat­tered bot­tles and oth­er junk lit­tered the for­est floor. Under the detri­tus, an ephemer­al pond, prairie and woods seemed to await renew­al. As vol­un­teers cleared inva­sives, plant­ed and sprout­ed, native trees and prairie plants took hold. The project began to bring joy and pride to the com­mu­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly the chil­dren walk­ing the trail between the ele­men­tary school and Alice Bak­er Memo­r­i­al Library.

Lawlor includes spe­cif­ic sto­ries of nature adven­tures in and around the trail. Chil­dren hurl milk­weed pods to dis­trib­ute seeds to make more habi­tats for mon­archs and oth­er pol­li­na­tors. They learn about how frogs can enter a frozen dor­man­cy in win­ter. Third-graders help plant prairie plants each spring. The chang­ing sea­sons move plants and ani­mals through col­or­ful and excit­ing cycles of rebirth. This sea­son­al rebirth has seen an annu­al bio­di­ver­si­ty increase since the ini­tial 2010 plant inventory.

Find fam­i­ly lessons and activ­i­ties for each sea­son. Dis­cov­er moti­va­tion to walk the trail. Be inspired to par­tic­i­pate on any lev­el. Plant native species in your yard or a pot on the porch. Par­tic­i­pate in restora­tion projects in your com­mu­ni­ty. Lawlor and the vol­un­teers will inspire you.

Euro­pean set­tlers, on the whole, did­n’t val­ue the nat­ur­al sys­tems in Amer­i­ca. And they did­n’t have a plan for wise use. When chil­dren learn to care for native species and sys­tems, they become adults who will care for the plan­et. And — we need that.” (Amy Lou Jenk­ins, Wis­con­sin Sier­ra Club Mag­a­zine, 11 Sep 2023)

Restoring Prairie, Woods, and Pond

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

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