Family legacy thrives through nature preserve expansion


The project will support bat habitats

RURAL VILLA GROVE, Ill. (WCIA) — A member of an East Central Illinois family whose name is on a recently-expanded nature preserve said it’s a joy to see the family legacy go on.

Grand Prairie Friends, a group that restores open spaces across several area counties, said the Edna Edwards Burnett Land & Water Reserve is expanding from 20 to 80 acres after a sale from the estate of Ralph Burnett. The preserve is located at 1466-1498 County Road 100 North, Tolono, although the newly added acres are closer to Villa Grove.

Gary Burnett is the son of Ralph Burnett and the grandson of Edna Edwards Burnett. He said the land had been in the family for around 100 years. Burnett said the process to turn over the initial 20 acres started in 2014 and ended in 2015. Then in 2019, Grand Prairie Friends approached the family about buying the other 60 acres. Ralph Burnett died in May 2021 at age 97 before he could see the project be complete. But the family got it over the finish line.

“It’s hard to let go of something you’ve had for a long time, but having it in grandma’s name and honoring the family legacy is pretty special,” Burnett said. “It just means a lot to the family to hang on to the name in that area. It’s pretty special.”

Burnett, who’s in the conservation business himself in Montana, said Grand Prairie Friends will be studying bats on the preserve and taking steps to preserve their breeding habitats.

Burnett said family members hope to gather at the preserve this spring to celebrate the expansion.

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