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  Home Northwest Indiana
Marsh and River Restoration Project
Jim Sweeney

Many people heading south out of Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph counties in Indiana soon pass through miles and miles of flat agricultural land. What they don抰 see is that some of it is actually pretty wet.

At the turn of the last century, this area was the largest inland marsh in North America, the Grand Kankakee Marsh. Compliments of the last glacier to visit Indiana, the marsh was 100 miles long and between one and fifteen miles wide, well over 500,000 acres. All through it ran the Kankakee River and incredible populations of waterfowl and wildlife lived here. There were no flooding problems.  

The dredging and draining of the marsh and river between the late 1800抯 and 1920 clearly caused the flooding and erosion that now cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year. It has caused all kinds of grief for our neighbors in Illinois (who did not channelize the river) and contributed greatly to the extirpation and endangerment of many wildlife species in Indiana and Illinois. 

To undo some of this damage, various partners are now working together to restore wildlife habitat and to eliminate flooding and erosion in three different projects. These projects will increase the quality of life for everyone that lives in the Kankakee River basin. 

The Indiana Grand Kankakee Marsh Restoration Project is a thirty partner, public and private venture to restore 26,000 acres of wetland and adjacent upland to restore the basins waterfowl populations. These projects can be located anywhere within the 2.2 million-acre watershed in Indiana and they have restored or agreed to restore 12,000 acres to date. 

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has approved a 30,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge in the basin in Indiana and Illinois. Land will be purchased only from willing sellers and only in areas FWS determines the goals of the project can be met. The goals are to restore wetland and prairie habitat and the plant and wildlife species dependent on them. No land has yet been purchased. 

The third effort is a flood control project by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Requested by Congress, the initial Reconnaissance Report recommended 30,000 acres of restored wetlands, reconnecting isolated river meanders, off stream sediment traps, and spot dredging as solutions to the chronic flooding and erosion problems of the Kankakee. The next phase of the study will complete in 2002. 

The Friends of the Kankakee see these projects as key components of a genuine river and marsh restoration. We believe the entire 100-year Kankakee River floodplain should be in permanent wetland management and that the river should be returned to its original course, most of which still exists isolated from the artificial channel.  

This can be accomplished through the projects mentioned above as well as utilizing conservation easements with private landowners, agricultural incentive programs, pairing willing sellers with willing buyers that wish to restore wetlands on private land, and the use of a local land trusts. 

The benefits a large wetland restoration will include the elimination of flooding and erosion problems and their associated expenses. The quality and quantity of surface and ground waters will increase.  

Wildlife populations will rebound quickly and there will be a lot of visitors spending lots of money on wildlife related recreation such as hunting, fishing, bird watching, nature study, etc. 

Property values will go up because their will be enthusiastic buyers for wet land and any realtor will tell you that people love living close to natural areas. Farmers will benefit by land being made available to hold and store floodwaters and erosion will cease to be an issue. 

By law, none of these new landowners can flood neighboring property. 

Of course, we can do nothing and watch the open space of the basin get gobbled up by subdivisions and strip malls, or invite more landfills and factory farms in as they pollute the water and stink up the air. Which would you rather live next to?

Send comments on the National Wildlife Refuge proposal to, USFWS, P.O. Box 189
Plymouth, Indiana 46563 or contact the Friends of the Kankakee at 219-322-7239. 

If a portion of the Kankakee is restored, most of the open space now cherished by locals will be there forever. Please write your elected officials and ask them to support restoration in the Kankakee River basin.  

Jim Sweeney, president

Friends of the Kankakee
1773 Selo Drive
Schererville, IN 46375


"One touch of nature makes the whole
world kin."   Wm. Shakespeare
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