Elmhurst Park Board votes to rename Great Western Prairie in honor of late volunteer Keith A. Olson

  • Keith Olson great western prairie renaming

An Elmhurst landmark will now bear the name of one of its biggest advocates and stewards. The Elmhurst Park District Board of Park Commissioners voted to rename the Elmhurst Great Western Prairie to the Keith A. Olson Prairie at their Monday, May 13 meeting. Olson passed away in January. Over the course of nearly 50 years, Olson dedicated countless hours of volunteerism to the prairie, a six-acre parcel of land located just north of the Prairie Path between Spring Road & Salt Creek. 

When two train tracks running through Elmhurst became unused in the 1950s and 60s, Olson recognized that the relatively untouched prairie between the tracks was a unique ecological site in Elmhurst. He envisioned an opportunity to preserve the land and educate the community about this part of Illinois’ history. Olson was a key component to the establishment and maintenance of the prairie, working with rails-to-trails groups to develop community and governmental partnerships. The result was one of the first rails to trails projects in the United States, the Illinois Prairie Path. 

Through his many years of volunteerism, Olson recruited and trained volunteers, led prescription burns, identified remnant prairie plants, and worked to remove invasive species. Olson taught chemistry, natural science and environmental science for over 25 years at York High School and loved to share his knowledge of the prairie with his students. This legacy lives on, with current York science teachers continuing to incorporate Elmhurst’s prairie into field trips and curriculum. 

Olson’s enthusiasm for the prairie was infectious. Monthly volunteer days continue to draw people of all ages, interested in preserving this land and learning more about what makes it so special. Olson’s lasting impact on the Elmhurst community is one that the Park District is pleased to recognize with the prairie’s renaming.

Related News