When Moraine Valley Community College was about to break ground on Building A, Bob Juracka realized the college was on land that was geographically unique. The original plan called for a tennis court to be built where the Nature Study and Observatory stands today.
Juracka, professor emeritus of biology, was an original faculty member who brought his discovery to the attention of the college’s Board of Trustees.
“The northwest corner of Moraine Valley is one of the places where visitors can see the three beach levels of old Lake Chicago, which receded to what is now called Lake Michigan,” said Juracka. “Ten thousand years ago, Moraine Valley’s campus would have been under 40 feet of water as the shores of Lake Chicago used to wash up on the beach where Kean Avenue meets 107th Street.”
Juracka, along with Dick Finley (late professor of geology/earth science from 1970-2005), formally petitioned the board in 1974 to preserve this area of the college. The board unanimously voted to dedicate those 40 acres of campus to be the Nature Study Area as well as build the pond. The Observatory was added in 1992.
“We got the land set aside, but we had a lot of work to do,” recalled Juracka.
For the next 18 years, Juracka, Finley, and teams of students collected seeds from the nearby prairies to reconstruct grass prairie. Eventually, the students would harvest seeds from the Moraine Valley prairie to continue to grow the area.
“It wasn’t just Dick Finley, the students and me,” said Juracka. “We had our families helping us as well. My kids have a lot of sweat equity logged in the nature preserve.”
As it stands today, the area is home to blue heron, mallards, schools of bass and bluegill, hundreds of plants and grasses, and coyotes. The area has two ponds. The one is 16-feet deep at the center and is fed by 11 springs, one of which is Sullivan Spring.
“The Nature Study Area serves as a living history for everyone who visits it,” said Juracka. “It’s a unique place for the community to visit, but it also is an outdoor classroom.”
Faculty take their students to the area for fieldwork in biology, botany, geology, earth science and environmental science. Students explore birds, animals and plant life in their natural environment and learn firsthand about water and soil testing.
“The Nature Study Area is everything I hoped it would become—a teaching and learning center on preserved land,” said Juracka.
While Juracka’s insight played a big role in having this area on campus, he also played a part in establishing Moraine Valley’s first Earth Day. It was held in 1970, the same year the first nationwide day was established.
“Moraine Valley was among one of the first colleges and universities to hold activities for Earth Day,” said Juracka. “It was an initiative that the entire college embraced.”
Juracka enjoyed a 25-year career at Moraine Valley. He retired in 1993 because of post-polio syndrome, a diagnosis that required him to be in a full leg brace. But, he doesn’t let it slow him down. Juracka lives in central Wisconsin in a log home that he and his wife, Louise, built alongside a trout stream. Very fittingly, he established a prairie on his property.
“I have a lot of sweat equity in this prairie, too,” said Juracka. “I had a lot of practice.”