Opening Opportunity

New amenities at Emiquon include boardwalks reaching 800 feet into the wetland, canoe and boat launches, hiking trails, observation decks with spotting scopes and pavilions with interpretive signage.

It’s sunrise, and she has now fasted for 48 hours, a sacrifice freely made. She’s dressed in everyday clothes−jeans and a T-shirt− but she’s armed with the sacred medicines of her people: cedar, sage, tobacco and sweetgrass.

Phyllis “Singing Bird” Ballard, of Mohawk and Seneca descent, is a Native American pipe carrier. She stands atop ancient burial mounds at The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve each year on April 30, Emiquon’s “Birth Healing Day,” with her prayer pipe to send prayers for Emiquon to God.

“I can feel the connection to our people here,” Phyllis said. “It’s totally amazing. Even as I drive down the road, the closer I get to Emiquon, I get goose bumps because I can feel them here.”

If You Build It, They Will Come

For Phyllis, Emiquon is a spiritual place where she can connect with God and her ancestors. For Kathryn Cain, owner of River Crossings Restaurant just up the road from the preserve, Emiquon is something that could benefit the local economy.

“I think Emiquon could make Havana a ‘go-to’ place and bring people here from all over,” Kathryn said. “I think there’s the possibility for new business ventures. I opened my restaurant here last year in March because I knew what was going on at Emiquon.”

On June 4, 2011, the Conservancy opened new visitor amenities with support from Jonathan and Nancy Hamill and the Hamill Family Foundation. New amenities include boardwalks reaching 800 feet into the wetland, canoe and boat launches, hiking trails, observation decks equipped with spotting scopes and pavilions with interpretive signage for teachers, students, land managers and other visitors.

Kathryn is only one business owner who’s seen an increase in sales after these facilities were opened to the public. Steve Kelly, owner of American Sport and Taxidermy in Havana, said he’s seen about a 10 percent increase in sales since Emiquon opened its waters to fishermen. Tad Putrich, owner of Buells Marine in Canton, said he’s also seen about a 10 percent increase in sales of trolling motors and boats set up for trolling motors.

People aren’t the only thing coming to Emiquon; this past spring Emiquon served as a refuge for hundreds of thousands of snow geese and coots, in addition to pelicans, cormorants, black-crowned night herons, black-necked stilts.

What Lies Ahead

The ultimate goal at Emiquon is to improve the ecological health of the Illinois River by restoring this rich landscape to a functional floodplain. That will also help reduce the incidence and severity of floods, stormwater runoff and water pollution.

Conservancy staff and partners are working to accomplish this goal by constructing a controlled reconnection between Emiquon’s waters and the Illinois River. This process involves careful monitoring of water quality and invasive species like Asian carp.

Reestablishing the connection between Emiquon and the Illinois River is only one step in the long-term goal of protecting our vital freshwater resources. Conservancy staff will continue restoration and management efforts at the preserve as well.

“Earth provides us everything we need to survive, from our medicines and our food to the air we breathe and water we drink,” Phyllis said. “It sustains us; it’s something we need to preserve.”

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