Wildlife Prairie Park is a not-for-profit 501c3 corporation. Our mission is to offer interactive, nature-oriented educational and recreational activities that provide transformational experiences inspiring conservation of the great outdoors.
Our founder William Rutherford, was an attorney by trade and had never planned on developing a nationally recognized park at the age of 60. However, in the 1960’s Bill learned that the Brookfield Zoo was looking for space to raise exotic, endangered animals. At this time, the Forest Park Foundation, which he was affiliated with since 1939, acquired 480 acres of land near Peoria with intentions of using it for conservation and environmental efforts.
The Foundation partnered with Brookfield Zoo, but when the management at the zoo changed, so did the plans for the Park. The foundation decided to create a new Park that offered what big zoos could not. They would use natural resources to create a zoological park dedicated to Illinois that also paid tribute to pioneer America.
Over the next three to four years, native Illinois animals, animals that would be brought by pioneers, and native plants were acquired, construction materials were secured, buildings were erected and money was raised. The Park opened for 6 weeks in September 1977 in honor of Mrs. Hazel Rutherford’s birthday, and then officially opened its gates to the public in 1978.
Bill Rutherford often said that he built parks and preserved green spaces to keep them for future generations. He felt it was an obligation he must fulfill. “It is a privilege to preserve wilderness areas for the children of distant generations,” Rutherford said.
We have many programs focused on helping people of all ages learn about our environment and how to be better stewards of our world. We partner with the U.S.D.A., U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, University of Illinois Extension, and University of Illinois School of Veterinary Medicine to keep the park a place where people will learn for years to come.
The Kim St John Butterfly Habitat was constructed in early 2013 as a result of a partnership with Phil St John, Wildlife Prairie Park and the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners (Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit). It is a 38 ft by 72 ft mesh enclosure containing and surrounded by a variety of pollinator and host plants for native Illinois butterflies.
Some of the butterflies you could see inside or outside the habitat include: Monarch, Viceroy, Pipevine Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, or any others of the 23 butterfly species that make central Illinois their home.
University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists form the core of the volunteers that plan and maintain the habitat, and frequently serve as guest relations. Feel free to ask plenty of questions during your visit to the Kim St John Butterfly Habitat, the largest native habitat in downstate Illinois!
The goal of the habitat is to support all 4 stages of butterflies: eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis, and of course… BUTTERFLIES! During your visit, be sure to look closely for more than just butterflies! Also, watch where you step as many times a butterfly will be “sunning” itself on the pathway!
Wildlife Prairie Park is honored and pleased to be a preapproved project location by our local University of Illinois Extension staff. This enables certified Master Naturalist to maintain their certification, with volunteer hours at the Park.
The University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist program provides science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards. The Program educates and trains adult volunteers to help disseminate natural resource information to the public and to assist with conservation and restoration activities in their community.
Caring for and sharing our natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. It is important to care for and protect the place where we live to ensure that it is “fit for the future.” Master Naturalist learn about many aspects of our natural resources including plants, wildlife, archaeology, geology, and ecology. They learn practical techniques that help professionals with managing natural areas and discover exciting ways to educate others about the wondrous natural world. To learn about becoming a U of I Extension Master Naturalist visit extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/master-naturalists
Wildlife Prairie Park works in partnership in many areas of the Park with University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Extension Master Gardeners are adults of all ages who love gardening and who have previous gardening experience.
The mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program is “Helping Others Learn to Grow.” Master Gardeners involve people in improving the quality of life by helping them find sound management practices for home and urban natural resources, by creating aesthetically pleasing environments, by promoting well-being through people-plant interactions and horticultural therapy, and by contributing to a safe, abundant food supply through home fruit and vegetable production.