The Grace Teninga Discovery Trail at Kankakee Sands in Newton County, Indiana.
Discovery_Trail_Kankakee_Sands The Grace Teninga Discovery Trail at Kankakee Sands in Newton County, Indiana. © Ellen Jacquart/TNC

Places We Protect

Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands

Indiana

Kankakee Sands in northwest Indiana is a prairie jewel in progress.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT

The Efroymson Restoration at Kankakee Sands in Newton County is a birder and wildflower enthusiast's paradise. The 7,000+ acres are home to an amazing array of birds, wildflowers, plants, and animals that fills the prairie with song and sights to behold. As the Conservancy continues its restoration work here, Kankakee Sands will only get richer and more diverse for generations to come.

WHY IS THE NATURE CONSERVANCY WORKING AT KANKAKEE SANDS?

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.

The large size and rich diversity of Kankakee Sands supports such rare species as red-headed woodpeckers, plains pocket gophers, Henslow's sparrows, old plainsman, and glass lizards as well as more common species such as blue joint grass, blazing star, sawtooth sunflower, and grassland birds.

This work is done in partnership with the 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.

SUCCESSES AND CURRENT STATUS

As of 2012, nearly 7,000 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, including several important bird species. Please note that birdwatching at Kankakee Sands can be a wonderful experience, but for everyone’s safety, caution should be exercised at all times. If birding from roadways, please use your flashing lights and pull over to the side of the road. Whether in a car or on foot, birders must not impede traffic.

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.

Read the Summer 2018 Kankakee Sands newsletter.

FRIENDS OF THE SANDS

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 friendsofthesands@yahoo.com.

WHAT TO SEE: PLANTS AND ANIMALS

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. Please note: Birdwatching at Kankakee Sands can be a wonderful experience, but for everyone’s safety, caution should be exercised at all times. If birding from roadways, please use your flashing lights and pull over to the side of the road. Whether in a car or on foot, birders must not impede traffic. Other rare and threatened species 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 salamanders 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 through 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 milkweed, 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.

Open all year-round, the trails at Kankakee Sands are the perfect way to explore the changes at this amazing preserve.

Why did you bring bison back to Kankakee Sands?

Historically, bison were found across the state of Indiana and were an integral part of our grassland ecosystems.  Bison foraged on grasses that tended to dominate prairies and prevent wildflowers from thriving. This grazing led to a flourishing of prairie flowers and plants, which in turn attracted diverse insects and other animals. Keeping the vegetation short also provided habitat for rare birds like the upland sandpiper. Additionally, when bison wallowed they created shallow depressions on the prairie. These areas filled with rainwater and attracted amphibians and other wildlife.

We reintroduced bison to our prairie restoration at Kankakee Sands so that our prairie can once again benefit from these grazers as it did in the past. We are excited to provide the opportunity to learn about and experience bison in their native Indiana habitat.

How many will there be?

We first introduced a herd 22 bison in 2016: 15 cows and 7 bulls, with the expectation that our herd will grow to between 40 and 70 over time. Ultimately, the total number will be based on the bison’s influence on their habitat, a 1,060-acre pasture at Kankakee Sands. Currently, there are 53 (?) bison at Kankakee Sands.

Where did they come from?

The bison for Kankakee Sands came from the Lame Johnny herd. Lame Johnny animals originate from Wind Cave National Park, a source for many pure strain bison herds. Wind Cave National Park (WICA) has maintained a closed breeding herd since 1916, having started with 14 animals from the Bronx Zoo and six from Yellowstone National Park.  In October 2005, WICA dispersed 20 bison to The Nature Conservancy to initiate the Slim Buttes Project herd, also known as the Lame Johnny Creek Ranch (LJCR) herd.  The herd has been supplemented three times since from subsequent WICA dispersals, the most recent of which occurred in 2014 under a Memorandum of Understanding between WICA and the Conservancy’s WICA satellite herds in order to strengthen this partnership for conservation of WICA’s unique genetics. The LJCR herd size varies from approximately 20-70 bison depending on annual dispersal; the herd has been used to supplement and start new Nature Conservancy herds in Missouri, Iowa, Mexico, Illinois, and others.

How are Kankakee Sands’ bison different from other herds in Indiana?

While there are other bison herds in Indiana, they are typically on small farms and raised for meat production. In contrast, the purpose of the herd at Kankakee Sands is to create a more healthy and diverse prairie at our Efroymson restoration site.

Has the Conservancy done this before?

Yes! Our bison herd at Kankakee Sands will be the fourteenth herd managed by The Nature Conservancy. Currently, approximately 5,800 bison roam our preserves in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Chihuahua, Mexico.

How are the bison cared for?

Bison are highly adapted to thrive in our native grasslands. As a result, they require no supplemental food and only a minimum of care.  Staff at our Kankakee Sands office oversee the herd and make sure they are healthy and safe.

Can I see the bison?

Yes! We have constructed a viewing area where visitors will be able to see them from one of the highest points in the pasture and an interpretive area to provide information about bison’s role in the prairie. The bison viewing area is open from 7 a.m. (Central) to dusk.

Can I still come to Kankakee Sands?

Absolutely! We encourage people to come out and see bison in their native habitat, as well as lots of birds and beautiful flowers. Hiking is prohibited in the bison unit, but there are plenty of other trails at our 8,300 acre Kankakee Sands project site.

How can I get involved?

Volunteers play a critical role in helping us maintain our prairie.  Click here for more information about volunteering at Kankakee Sands.

We host volunteer workdays on the second Saturday of every month. Come join us for a day of fun and adventure! After the workday, enjoy a trip to see the bison, hike along a trail, or photograph the plants and animals of Kankakee Sands.