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New Nature Preserves To The North, South, And East

By JoshMogerman in News on Aug 18, 2012 9:00PM

Nippersink Creek [Eric Allix Rogers]

For most people in the region, the words “Chicago” and “wilderness” seem barely connected. That is a shame because our little corner of the world happens to be a globally unique confluence of ecosystems and biodiversity. We don’t really see it in our urban and industrialized day-to-day, but scratch just below the surface and there is an astounding mix of living sand dunes, oak forest and tall grass prairie all around the south half of Lake Michigan. And this month has seen a flurry of action around projects that will help us reconnect with those ecosystems and natural spaces in almost every cardinal direction around Chicago.

To the south, the proposed 140,000-acre Millennium Reserve received a million dollar grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will go a long way towards restoring former industrial land in the Calumet region into a recreational asset. It is a bold concept, transforming abandoned blight on the Southeast Side and Northwest Indiana into the biggest park in the lower-48 states (more than 12 times the size of Lincoln Park). Though the nearly $12 million that has been raised for the project so far seems like only a drop in the slag-filled bucket to us, Cameron Davis, a senior adviser with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (and former director of the Alliance for the Great Lakes) is optimistic:

"Few places have seen as much abuse and neglect and have been written off like the Lake Calumet region. But every place is salvageable.”
To the east, the City announced that Jeanne Gang’s cool and whimsical vision for accessible nature at Northerly Island would begin to move forward, transforming what used to be Meigs Field into a small preserve that will represent six different ecosystems---and a campground! Check out Chuck’s full run-down on the project.

And to the north comes word that another long-discussed nature preserve on the Illinois-Wisconsin border is coming close to reality. The Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge has gotten a federal green light and land acquisition for the 11,200-acre park, much of which will be in McHenry County on the Illinois side, could begin soon. The donut-shaped park would encircle farmland, but represents a vast swath of pristine wetland and grassland around Nippersink Creek, which is a migratory bird stopover that is home to otters and rare aquatic species. And the park will have the added attraction of having the most fun to say name in the entire national wildlife refuge system…

While the video below isn’t all that exciting, we think these projects really are. (And yes, we know all about the important work of the group Chicago Wilderness!)