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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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