Disarming the Prairie

Front Cover
JHU Press, 1998 - Nature - 73 pages

In Disarming the Prairie, noted landscape photographer Terry Evans offers haunting and hopeful images of the impact of America's military-industrial complex on the environment and the transformation of a former military base into a unique nature preserve and public recreation area. Located 40 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, the Joliet Army Arsenal was once the world's largest TNT factory. Wartime security and safety measures demanded that the Joliet installation be surrounded by 19,000 acres of open lands -- farmlands, meadows, wetlands, and forest. Abandoned by the post-Cold War era military, the munitions plant and its vast prewar farmland and wilderness setting now has a new purpose. Inspired by the vision and efforts of environmentalists, preservationists, and Chicago-area residents, the federal government in 1997 transferred the land from the Department of the Army to the U.S. Forest Service and created Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

In her photographs of the Midewin Prairie, Terry Evans captures this moment of transformation, contrasting the decayed monuments of twentieth-century warfare with the pastoral beauty and historic structures preserved within the boundaries of the former installation. Through her evocative images of the arsenal (abandoned bunkers, disused railway tracks, crumbling factory buildings and offices) and the countryside around the base (tallgrass prairie, a blackbird's nest, grazing cattle, a meandering creek, as well as a prehistoric burial mound and a Civil War-era fieldstone fence), Evans explores one of this country's most troubling and least understood legacies -- the militarization of the American landscape. In his informative introduction, Tony Hiss notes that installations similar to the Joliet Arsenal were built across the United States during the Second World War and at the height of the Cold War, eventually occupying 30 million acres of land. Approximately 20 million acres (an area the size of Austria) remain under military control today, and the debate over what to do with the sprawling munitions factories for which the post-Cold War military has no further use has begun in earnest. Joliet's transformation to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie will serve as a model for future conversion of military lands into civilian use, and Terry Evans's photographic record of this change provides hope that renewal is possible.

 

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