Nestled right in the warehouse district by I-255 is a special place, unique and critical to the survival of a disappearing landscape.  

Many years ago, Mary Knoll Sullivan’s family found refuge in the old farmhouse that sat on the land. The serene property provided an escape from the bustle of the quickly developing region.  As Mary and her family enjoyed spending time together at the farm, they quickly discovered the secret wonders of the land.

At just over 40 acres, Mary’s property’s sand prairie and sand savanna habitat are rare in Illinois and home to many unique plants and animals.  Its wetlands that fill with water in the spring but then completely dry up mid-summer make it a perfect place for the elusive and threatened Illinois Chorus Frog to thrive.  The sandy soils, left behind from glacier melt, and the hot sun shining down allow the Prickly Pear Cactus to flower, surprising to find in the midwest.  It is the ideal landscape for the Ornate Box Turtle, one of only two land-based species of turtles native to the Great Plains of the United States, to roam.  It provides respite for the Bobwhite Quail as you hear their clear whistle “bob white” through the trees.  The late summer sees a spark of red as the Royal Catchfly, one of the very few prairie plants pollinated by hummingbirds, blooms.

Sand Prairies are disappearing.  With less than 2,500 acres of this habitat remaining in all of Illinois, all of these plants and animals found on Mary’s property have become more sparse.

Mary loves animals and has dedicated her life to rescuing wildlife, even working to start many rescue organizations and initiatives across the river in St. Charles, where she now resides.  In recent years, with warehouses looming and the noise of nearby traffic heard louder than before, Mary noticed she couldn’t hear as many Illinois Chorus Frogs signing, and sightings of the Bobwhite Quail were fewer and farther between.


With her nieces and nephews grown, the old farmhouse no longer needed to stand tall, and Mary wrestled with the decision to sell her property.  The future of the habitat lies in the balance – her acreage could have easily become the corner of the next towering warehouse or a car lot, but Mary wanted more.


Mary learned about the work HeartLands Conservancy and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources were doing to preserve sand prairie habitat for the species that depend on it to survive just down the street at Poag Sand Prairie and generously offered to sell, and donate in part, her land to conserve it for future generations.


Through her years of experience in animal rescue, Mary knows the impact that habitat conservation can have on the species that depend on it.  The Knoll Family Wildlife Sanctuary allows for the protection of the diverse sand prairie habitat, opens an opportunity for people to experience the plants and animals Mary grew to love, and is a gift of hope for southern Illinois’ future.  

Illinois Chorus Frog by Bill Duncan
Prickly Pear Cactus at Knoll Family Wildlife Sanctuary

Right now, HeartLands Conservancy is working towards the regeneration of the prairie plants and wetland ecosystems.  The site will eventually feature walking trails and exploration opportunities for the community to enjoy. 


How to Help

There are many ways to help the species that depend on our region’s sand prairies, and like Mary, you can be a key part of the team.  We will have volunteer opportunities in the coming years to make The Knoll Family Wildlife Sanctuary an ideal place for these species to thrive.


Funding support for HeartLands Conservancy’s conservation mission is critical to ensuring we can continue advancing these protection and restoration efforts in our region. 

You can donate here to give the gift of hope today.

Learn more about the Knoll Family Wildlife Sanctuary here. 


This land is being conserved, in part, by funding and technical assistance made available as mitigation for habitat impacts arising through the construction of the Glacier Sands Wind Project and Moraine Sands Wind Project in partnership with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and The Conservation Fund; through a Natural Areas Acquisition Grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation; and by a generous donation by Mary Knoll Sullivan.