Great blue heron at Big Marsh natural area
Big Marsh Natural Area Great blue heron at Big Marsh natural area. © Emanuel Love

Stories in Illinois

The Calumet Region

Among the residential and industrial corridors of the Calumet, nature thrives.

Driving along the Indiana Skyway towards Chicago, the impression you take away might be the smoke stacks and steel mills that border the Lake Michigan shoreline. But nestled amongst this industrial infrastructure, you’ll also find globally-important habitats that hold enormous benefits for people, plants, and wildlife. 

“When you think about it, it’s incredible that these habitats are here and that they survived, even as residential, commercial, and industrial development sprung up around them,” said John Legge, the Conservancy’s Chicago conservation director.

Known as the Calumet, an area stretching from South Chicago to Gary, Indiana, this region is home to steel factories and massive drawbridges, as well as crucial wetland, oak savanna, and prairie habitat. Although residential; and industrial development brought inevitable stressors such as habitat loss, degraded water quality, and altered hydrology, natural areas such as Wolf Lake, Hegewisch Marsh, Ivanhoe Preserve, and others have survived in the Calumet, providing essential habitat for native species of plants and wildlife.

“You’ll find everything from thousands of migratory birds that pass through the area, as well as rare or threatened species like the mudpuppy, red-headed woodpecker, and smooth green snake,” John explained.

Today, The Nature Conservancy is joining forces with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Audubon Great Lakes, Chicago Park District and local community groups across the Illinois-Indiana border to preserve these natural areas. Additionally, these partners are reconnecting communities to their natural heritage, and working to bring back habitats in the Calumet region that were once considered lost causes, such as the Grand Calumet River.

“Natural areas in the Calumet region offer significant benefits to both people and nature,” John explained.  “By restoring these areas, we give native plants and wildlife the opportunity to rebound, while enhancing the quality of life for local residents, providing recreational opportunities such as fishing and hunting, and adding economic value to local communities. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”