In 1996, three key natural areas in northern Newton County—Conrad Savanna, Beaver Lake Prairie and Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area—were imbedded within a matrix of corn and bean fields. In a unique strategy to improve the long term survival of the plants and animals on those natural areas, The Nature Conservancy purchased 7,200 intervening acres from Prudential Insurance. This single purchase connected the three properties—a crucial step to ensure that plants and animals isolated on a single site would have a more natural bridge to interact, share genetic material and increase the vigor of the populations. This acquisition was the birth of the restoration known as Kankakee Sands, headquartered in a ranch house on U.S. 41 north of Morocco, Indiana.
Recently The Nature Conservancy purchased an additional 400 acres of land directly west of the Kankakee Sands office. A quick look at a map of Kankakee Sands illustrates why this piece was so integral to our restoration efforts. The 400 acres fills in a “hole” between Willow Slough FWA and the Kankakee Sands restoration. It creates an additional 1.25 miles of connection between the two preserves, helping to fulfill the original goals of the restoration.
There is more to this parcel than just its location. It possesses a natural basin, drained by previous owners in order to be farmed. The depression offers an exceptional opportunity for creation of an abundant wetland, much larger than any currently on the Kankakee Sands restoration. The wetland will have significant areas of open water intermingled with shallower fingers of sedge meadow and wet prairie. The new habitat will be ideal for waterfowl, shorebirds, and marsh birds. We anticipate that this wetland will become a key resting and nesting area for thousands of migratory water birds each spring and fall.
Creating vegetation for such a large emergent wetland poses exciting challenges requiring new strategies and techniques. The restoration will demand much more sophisticated engineering and detailed planning than the restoration of any other acres on the site to date. The sheer size of the wetland will require formulation of safe water retention. We expect there will be a great interest from the local community, birders, naturalists, and outdoorsman in visiting the site. In anticipation of that, we plan to construct a platform for wildlife viewing, much in the same vein as the platform used by thousands each fall at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.April 26, 2011