Wolf Road Prairie: An Abandoned Housing Development Turned Forest Preserve

Wolf Road Prairie is located on the northwest corner of Wolf Road and 31st St in Westchester, IL, and like many of the forest preserves in the Chicago area, there is more to this place than initially meets the eye.

It is not very large at just over .1 square miles,  but has an extensive mix of prairie, savanna and wetland and is home to more than 360 native plant species. (Cook County Forest Preserve)

Surrounded by development which is obstructed by fog in this photo, this is a hidden gem of the area.

It also has sidewalks that enter the woods. Why would the Cook County Forest Preserve destroy prairie land just to make it easier to walk? The answer is they didn't. The sidewalks hold the clue to what this area was supposed to be; another housing development. 

I visited this area in December of 2020, and what was initially a very quiet snow year, that somehow managed to snow during my visit. But that made the pictures I took that much better, I think, as it really expresses the emptiness within an area almost completely surrounded by development.

The "parking" area is a little bit of gravel on the side of 31st St, but its enough for a few cars.

Looking on satellite imagery, you can see what this was supposed to be.

Google Maps Satellite View. The "grid" of what would have been another housing development is still visible overhead.

As early as the Great Depression, this area was slated for development. However, the crash and slow recovery during the 1930's prevented any houses from being built. Surprisingly, during the late 40's through 1960's, while other parcels of land were developed, this was spared, until pressures to do so resurfaced during the early 1970's. 

It was at this point that the Save the Prairie Society was founded. "A motivated teacher, Jack Shouba, and his high school students started this truly grassroots effort by selling plants to purchase the first parcel of land at Wolf Road Prairie. This initial success led Jack and fellow prairie advocates to establish the STPS." 

A single tree sits above the prairie, in what otherwise looks like the aftereffects of nuclear winter.

The area was eventually acquired by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the CCFPD. More buffer area was acquired in the 1990's to better protect the area, but it is still quite small.

On a normal day, the development doesn't seem so far away.

The sidewalks inside the prairie are the only remnant of the development that was abandoned before any other construction took place.

The sidewalks are a little difficult to maneuver, and plants are growing around them, showing Mother Nature is never too far away from taking over again.

Probably my favorite picture of the area.

There are sidewalks you can walk throughout the area, and as you'd expect, they all intersect one another.

Watch your step within the woods.

I love this place, it's an incredibly peaceful place, and shows just how much we've lost due to suburbanization and single family zoning.

Someone would've lived here much too close to the road, which is unfortunately far too common in the area.
I would definitely recommend paying this place a quick visit and taking in as much of the prairie as you can.

Thanks as always for reading!


  1. Back in the 80s there was quite a controversy regarding the home just west of there along 31st street. Seems their wells were contaminated by the garbage dump next to the Tri-State. I think Westchester eventually ran water lines to them, however now the properties are Forest Preserve police stations.

  2. Very nice. Hope you do a spread when it is in bloom.


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