Chesterton Tribune

20,000 acres Kankakee marsh being restored

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MOROCCO, Ind. (AP) — A collection of wildlife groups and local governments has bought some 18,000 acres around northwestern Indiana’s Kankakee River, returning that land to its natural marsh or grasslands since plans for a larger federal preserve died a decade ago.

That work to restore portions of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, much of which was drained more than a century ago, was honored last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

About $18 million in donations and state and federal grants have gone into buying the land, which is nearing the group’s goal of 20,000 acres.

“It’s gone really well, and we’ve only dealt with willing sellers,” said Dick Blythe, whose involvement in restoring the Grand Kankakee started in 1994.

The EPA honor to the Lake County Parks Department covers the joint effort by groups such as Ducks Unlimited Inc., the Indiana Heritage Trust Fund, Waterfowl USA, and several local governments, park departments and private companies.

Plans from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a 30,000-acre wildlife refuge within the former marsh area met with opposition from farmers and others in the rural area around the river that runs from near South Bend into Illinois.

“They’re worried about flooding and don’t want a bunch of waterfowl near their fields,” said Craig Zandstra of the Lake County Parks Department. “They don’t want to take farmland out of production. They’re afraid the feds were going to come in and take up their property.”

Grand Kankakee board members scout real estate ads and rural roads for land that can be easily restored to a prairie or wetland area. Often, all that’s required to turn a farm field into a marsh is to burn off the corn, plant wild grasses, then crush some drains or block a ditch.

Once restored, the marsh attracts long-absent waterfowl, shore birds, frogs and insects.

Nearly a dozen separate preserves exist in the 10-county area once covered by the Grand Kankakee Marsh. The largest is the 7,600-acre Kankakee Sands area, managed by The Nature Conservancy in Newton County, and the smallest is the Thomas Sporre Marsh, a 78-acre area between Crown Point and Hebron.

Plans are under way to acquire several hundred acres in LaPorte County early next year, but rising corn prices and other factors have driven up marshland prices.

Still, the partners expect to reach their original goal of 20,000 acres in the next few years. Blythe sees no reason why the marsh system couldn’t reach the dimensions envisioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in 1997. “We’re going so good, I don’t see why we couldn’t do 30,000 acres,” he said.


Posted 12/18/2007