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Chiwaukee Prairie Region

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About the Chiwaukee Prairie Region

The Chiwaukee Prairie Region is a region in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois, along Lake Michigan. This region has fertile soils that formerly supported mostly tallgrass prairie, and has been replaced by extensive agriculture and some urban development.

The terrain here is flat on a broad scale, and locally rolling. Much of this region consists of ground moraine, and there are also some outwash channels and terminal moraines. Soils here are mostly silt loams formed from loess, that formed underneath prairies. Underneath this is loamy, calcium-rich glacial till or sandy and gravely outwash, both derived from dolomite bedrock. The soils here are ideal for western agriculture.

Originally this region was mostly covered with tallgrass prairie, ranging from mesic to wet prairies. There were also scattered areas of bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) savanna interspersed with the prairie. There were also some sedge meadows, and some riverine forest in the bottomlands along rivers and streams.

Most of the prairies here have been cleared for agriculture. This region is intensively farmed, and has also seen significant urban and suburban development. It includes the cities of Racine, WI and Kenosha, WI. There are a few small areas of protected public land, mostly in the Illinois portion of this region, including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and Lyons Woods Forest Preserve. On the Wisconsin side there are some preserved prairies at Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area and Prairie Springs Park. Most of the rest of this region is severely disturbed, altered, and what few prairies remain are highly fragmented. There are also some artificially-constructed lakes and some heavily-managed landscapes including municipal parks and golf courses.

This region is surrounded to the north and west by the Kettle Moraines, a region that is hillier and has numerous small lakes, and, at least at the border with this region, tends to have more clayey soils. To the south, along the lake, there is also a very narrow border with the Valparaiso-Wheaton Morainal Complex, another region that also tends to be hillier. Although the area with this border is heavily suburbanized and hard to recognize inland, it is marked by a shift from a relatively broad, flat area along the shoreline, to rather abrupt cliffs along the shoreline farther south.

References

1. Albert, Dennis A. "Regional landscape ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin: a working map and classification.", General Technical Report NC-178, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station, St. Paul, MN (1995) Web.