A 6-foot-tall taxidermy bull bison towers over the recently renovated museum at Jarrett Prairie Center, in Byron, Ill.

Major Renovations at Jarrett Prairie Center

There are plenty of new experiences awaiting at Jarrett Prairie Center. Learn what you can see, touch and experience at this award-winning museum.

A 6-foot-tall taxidermy bull bison towers over the recently renovated museum at Jarrett Prairie Center, in Byron, Ill.
A 6-foot-tall taxidermy bull bison towers over the recently renovated museum at Jarrett Prairie Center, in Byron, Ill. (Jarret Prairie Center Museum photo)

Miles of lush prairie, gently rolling hills and wildflower meadows are viewable from the new deck at the Jarrett Prairie Center Museum in Byron, Ill. While the scenery has always been idyllic, the 2,600-square-foot wood-planked deck of the Prairie Overlook allows visitors a better view.

The center has been part of the Byron Forest Preserve since 1991, but the new deck and other recent renovations have enhanced the center’s offerings.

“We redid the upstairs, which means another 4,000 square feet of space for interactive exhibits and seating for up to 160 people for events like banquets, weddings and receptions,” says Mark Herman, superintendent of education.

Towering above the museum, atop a glass display case, is a 6-foot-tall taxidermy bull bison. Other mounted creatures inside the museum include elk, greater prairie chicken and an American badger. These animals, along with various fossils, woolly mammoth teeth, glacial rocks and a mannequin of a prehistoric Native American take visitors back in time to learn about prairie history.

Five dioramas feature glimpses into various depictions of the prairie experience. The Prehistoric Landscape Diorama exhibits area plants dating back 12,000 years. The Sauk Indian Village Diorama displays a representation of life in the 1760s Sauk Indian Village located along the Rock River near the entrance to where the Jarrett Prairie Center now sits.

In the 1850s, that same site became home to the Charles Wilbur Grout House, which still stands, and a diorama displays the way of living shortly after pioneers settled the area. Other dioramas showcase diversity in prairie ecosystems and the roles of tunnel-dwelling animals in the region.

The Discovery Shelves and Education Resources Library house walls filled with books, puzzles, puppets, games and building blocks to encourage kids and families to mingle and connect. The Living Collection terrarium holds live animals, like box turtles and corn snakes, that educators can bring out for students on field trips to interact with and view up close. A Wentzscope microscope is available for easy viewing of various prairie plant seeds, insects, feathers, fossils and other artifacts.

The award-winning Jarrett Prairie Center Museum is big on synergy. From the touchable steel plow and pulley, which was once an agriculture innovation, to the binoculars that allow users to look more closely at the 400-acre preserve, the museum encourages visitors to touch, feel and experience the prairie.

For a true step into this ecosystem, visit the museum’s Byron Bank Immersive Theater. Seating 40 people, the state-of-the-art theater with multiple projectors and special-effect LED lights overhead shows a six-minute introductory film about ecosystems. Thanks to the corporate sponsorship of Byron Bank, new movies will be developed each year.

The theater’s designers, Balance Studios of Green Bay, Wis., also partnered with local educators and museum education staff to develop a computerized fantasy farm. Choose to settle in a wetland marsh, an abandoned pasture, an old woodlot, or a `rocky hillside. Users make their own decisions on land use and crops. Choices made in the game will affect both the environmental and economic outcome.

“The center is not only used for weddings and events, but also hosts a free lecture series about nature and environmental issues,” Herman says.

Wildflower walks, beekeeping workshops and homeschool classes are all in the works. Events range from free to several dollars per activity. On Tuesday and Saturday nights, visit the Weiskopf Observatory next to the museum (as long as there is no cloud cover) for free stargazing through the new Celestron Telescope.

No matter the time of year or weather, Jarrett Prairie Museum invites its visitors to learn, touch, see and experience the original landscape of the Prairie State.