The Kankakee Sands Efroymson Family Prairie Restoration is a birder's and wildflower enthusiast's paradise. The more than 7,000 acres hosts an amazing array of birds, wildflowers, plants and animals that fills the prairie with song and sights to behold. As a restoration project, the beauty of the Sands will only get better for generations to come.
Central Tallgrass Prairie
The Nature Conservancy
Division of Fish & Wildlife, Division of Nature Preserves, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Heritage Trust, Indiana Grand Company, Lilly Endowment, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Services
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Did you know that 99.9% of Indiana’s original prairies, wetlands, black oak barrens and sand prairies have been lost to draining, agriculture, development and lack of healthy wildfire? Prior to TNC’s involvement at the site, the protected areas were tiny and isolated from one another. They were not big enough for the plants and animals there to thrive and they were too far apart for cross-pollination and animal movement. The remnants and restorations at Kankakee Sands bring back over 6,000 acres of these natural communities and interconnect over 20,000 acres of functioning habitat.
Kankakee Sands is home to over 130 species that are considered threatened, endangered or rare in Indiana. The large size and rich diversity of Kankakee Sands supports such rare species as: red headed woodpeckers, henslow’s sparrows, old plainsman and glass lizards as well as more common species such as blue joint grass, sawtooth sunflower, and grassland birds.
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.
As of 2012, nearly 6,500 acres have been planted with the seeds of over 600 native plant species. Insects and animals have colonized the restored areas from the neighboring preserves. There are over 100 rare, threatened or endangered species at Kankakee Sands. Current restoration focus is on the wetlands to the west of the office. Over 600 acres of wet prairie and open water will be created and vegetated. Restoration Ecologists on staff and volunteers continue to manage against invasive species such as cottonwood trees, reed canary grass and Canada thistle.
One of our largest, most exciting wetland restorations is in Unit J, the area that was once the deepest part of Beaver lake. Before it was drained in the 1920s, Beaver Lake was 30,000 acres of shallow water; its meandering edge was home to sky-darkening flocks of waterfowl and shorebirds. The restoration in Unit J has involved removing drain culverts, creating a mile-long earthen berm, installing water control structures, and planting over 700 million seeds. This spring we expect the wetland to be fully saturated, giving us approximately 100 acres of open water and another 400 acres of wet prairie and sedge meadow surrounding the marsh. We, along with the birds, frogs and turtles, anxiously await the return of a significant piece of the Beaver Lake ecosystem. For volunteer opportunities, click here.
Friends of the Sands is a group dedicated to increasing community interest, support, and use of Newton County's natural areas, especially the Kankakee Sands Restoration Project of The Nature Conservancy. The group was established in January of 2004 and meets once a month, usually on a Sunday late afternoon.
All ages are welcome. Through participation in the group, Friends learn about ecology, animals, birds and plants of Newton County.
Past projects have included: native plant display garden at the Newton County Fairgrounds; placemats about Kankakee Sands and surrounding natural areas distributed to local diners; hikes for the community at Kankakee Sands; and brochures distributed to local libraries.
If you'd like more information, please email Friends of the Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A mecca for many birders of the Midwest, Kankakee Sands is home to some of the fastest declining bird species in North America as well as threatened or endangered bird species to Indiana. These birds are one of the many reasons it is critical for the Conservancy to restore and protect the preserve. A partial list of birds found at the Sands is available. Other rare and threatened specied include the plains pocket gopher, regal fritillary, blue racer and the prairie fame flower.
On the other hand, amphibians are thriving in the prairie since hydrology restoration has taken place at the site. Frogs, toads and salanders can be found happily hopping and creeping all around. Keep on eye out for the grass lizard, a long and legless reptile that resembles a snake but has ear holes and eyelids.
As Kankakee Sands is going though major restoration to its natural beauty, the Kankakee Sands Seed Nursery was developed in order to ensure that the proper native prairie and wetlands plants were used to reinvigorate the area. To date, 5,000 acres have been restored and research has shown that the high diversity of plants have brought many insect and vertebrate species into the restored areas. Over 390 different native plant species have been used in restoration. Some wildflowers seen include blazing star, common mildweed, cardinal flower and blue-flag iris.
Kankakee Sands Preserve is a large region of marsh wetlands, farm fields, and prairie. For maximum benefit, before visiting call or write the Kankakee Sands Project Office, 3294 North U.S. 41, Morocco, IN 47963, (219) 285-2184.
For more information please consult the Conservancy’s Preserves Visitation Guidelines.
Open all year-round, the trails at Kankakee Sands are the perfect way to explore the changes at this amazing preserve.
Information on the Sand's Place Based Learning Program.
Kankakee Sands Beyond the Beach.
From Interstate 65, take exit 220 to travel west on IN State Road 14 for 9.5 miles. Turn right onto US 41. Travel north for 2.3 miles. The project office is located in the large red pole barn on the west side of the highway.