For 50 years, the ParkLands Foundation has been preserving and protecting historic natural lands in the Mackinaw Valley, helping to sustain biological diversity of native plants and wildlife while providing pristine areas for recreation.
In 1967, Loring Merwin, the publisher of The Pantagraph, founded the ParkLands Foundation. The original ideas was to acquire grounds, then hand them off to government agencies to use for recreational grounds. The first purchase was the Mackinaw State Fish and Wildlife Area.
"It's an incredible piece of ground," explained Matt Fraker, foundation board member. "The bluffs are huge, the ravines are deep, there's endangered plants over there, the nesting birds there are unique and phenomenal for central Illinois. They handed that land over and their wishes for how the land would be used for the future were ignored. And that upset Merwin and the crew, so they decided not to become a middle and and to do it on their own."
The Foundation's mission has always been the protection of native grounds along the Mackinaw River. That protection has brought about good news for the river itself, too. "Without question a side effect of these 50 years of work has been to make this river incredibly clean," said Fraker.
The majority of the work protecting the area has been done by volunteers -- the Foundation only hired it's first professional staff member a little over a decade ago. Fraker credits the biologists at Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University for providing assistance over the years. "Even with what limited funding that we've had, we've been able to create two natural preserved corridors with top-notch restoration."
"Anything helps our organization -- donations, volunteering, going on walks, hikes, just supporting us and learning more about us."