Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Kankakee Marsh
Nature Bulletin No. 75   July 20, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation

THE KANKAKEE MARSH
The Kankakee Marsh is coming back. Indiana is trying to rectify her great mistake. Portions of what was one of the richest wildlife areas in the nation are being restored. It was called the "Grand Marsh" by the early French explorers who came upstream on the St. Joseph River from Lake Michigan to what is now South Bend, where they made a short portage to the headwaters of the Kankakee. From there, paralleling the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the great swamp extended to the limestone ledge at what is now Momence, just west of the Indiana- Illinois state line. As late as 1882 there were almost 500,000 acres of marsh in an area 75 miles long and 30 miles wide, described then as follows:

"From its source to the state-line there is a direct distance of only 75 miles, but within this distance the stream makes 2,000 bends and flows a total length of 240 miles .... The water has an almost imperceptible flow, and in many places wild rice, rushes, lily-pads and aquatic grasses channel.... It resembles an immense sponge, slowly absorbing the water during the wet season and as slowly giving it forth during the dry, so that the flow throughout the year is quite regular and uniform in amount.

It teemed with fish, waterfowl, furbearers, upland game birds including quail, ruffed grouse, prairie chicken and wild turkey, and many other forms of wildlife now extinct in this region, such as trumpeter swan, sandhill cranes, buffalo, elk deer, black bear, timber wolves and porcupines.

During the next 50 years the land companies and farmers took over. The river channel was dredged and straightened. The rock ledge at Momence, which had held water in the marsh, was cut down several feet. Lateral ditches and levees were constructed everywhere. But eventually it was found that much of the drained land was not good for farming. Crops drowned out in wet years and burned out in dry years because of a sandy subsoil which does not hold water and a loose mucky topsoil that drifted like snow. Many farms later sold for as low as $5.00 per acre.

Now the tide has turned. More than 15,000 acres have been restored to their original state by the Indiana Department of Conservation and a few private land-owners who realize the values of native wildlife. Many thousand more acres will be similarly restored. Wild geese and ducks are wintering on the 7500-acre Jasper-Pulaski Game Preserve. Furbearers and upland game are becoming plentiful. Beaver have been introduced and are multiplying rapidly.

The plan for the proposed Kankakee Basin Public Lands Area provides for the acquisition and restoration of about 100,000 acres, all of it submarginal lands unsuitable for agriculture. This includes the 24,000 acre Beaver Lake Area, south of the main Kankakee basin and adjacent to Lake Village on U.S. 41, of which only 2000 acres would be flooded. The total area to be flooded would total roughly 26,000 acres. The border marsh lands and knolls would provide 48,000 acres of waterfowl area. The remainder, including most of the Beaver Lake area which still has a sizable colony of prairie chicken, would be habitat for upland game and furbearers.

We are learning some of the principles of proper land use. We are heeding the warning of Gifford Pinchot: "A nation deprived of liberty may win it, a nation divided may reunite, but a nation whose national resources are destroyed must inevitably pay the penalty of poverty, degradation and decay."


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