Prior to European settlement, this part of Indiana was wet. The Grand Kankakee Marsh extended over hundreds of thousands of acres. Shallow Beaver Lake covered the area where the restoration is now. Beaver Lake was drained over several decades at the end of the 1800s. The land that emerged after the draining was grazed by cattle and then was farmed with row crops in later decades.
In 1996, The Nature Conservancy purchased 7,200 acres of agricultural land in central Newton County from a single owner, Prudential Insurance/Bank. The acres were in between the existing DNR properties of Conrad Savanna Nature Preserve, Beaver Lake Nature Preserve, Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area and the TNC’s Conrad Station Savanna preserve. The total connected land area is over 20,000 acres of natural area. The 7,200 acres had originally been part of the bed of Beaver Lake, which settlers drained in the late 1800s. It was subsequently grazed and then farmed in corn and soybeans.
Active restoration began in 1997 by planting 200 acres with seeds of native grasses and wildflowers. Each year since then, additional acres are taken out of farming following the harvest of the crop in the fall. Prairie seeds that have been collected from our nursery and nearby from the wild are planted over the field. We have planted over 600 native plant species at Kankakee Sands over 6,000 acres to date.
Along with sowing seeds, restoration includes monitoring and removing undesirable plants that are not native and invasive. These plants can take over an area and decrease the biodiversity and health of an area. Our staff and volunteers reduce the impact of invasive plants by pulling, mowing, herbiciding, grazing and prescribed fire.
Wildfires are a natural and healthy part of grassland and barrens ecosystems. We can maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts of fire at Kankakee Sands by choosing the timing, intensity and area of the fire through the practice of prescribed burning. Prescribed burning is carried out by specially trained and experienced personnel who first write a plan which contains a set of conditions (a prescription) for wind, humidity, vegetation, season, burn breaks, crew and equipment. When these conditions are met, the fire crew assembles at the site and burns the specified area.
We also create small, shallow ponds for amphibians, birds and wetland plants.July 29, 2013