History of Kankakee Sands

8,000 acres, 15 years, more than 600 plant species

We finished the last planned restoration planting at Kankakee Sands this past winter.  Here is the story of this incredible restoration through the words of the people who made it happen.

Spring 1996- "Prudential accepted a purchase agreement for their 23,000 acre lot with only $25,000 in earnest money. Our chapter board agreed that the deal will proceed if we could raise half of the money." -Mary McConnell, State Director

Fall 1996- "In the eleventh hour, the Lilly Endowment supported the project with a gift of $6 million. We were over the hump. We acquired Kankakee Sands in the fall of 1996." -McConnell

1997-1998- “How do we restore 11 square miles? What do we hope to achieve? Over the next two years, we developed a rough vision to restore connectivity to a fragmented landscape, not just for a few plants and mobile animals, but for the entire ecosystem." -John Shuey, Director of Science

"We made basic decisions to drive the complex restoration of near-natural water flows, species-rich plantings and high-intensity management—decisions that continue today.” -Shuey

Spring 1999- “From the moment I started working at Kankakee Sands in the spring of 1999, we were moving fast, starting at 6:30 am and working well past dark every day to turn a fallow soybean field into a 120-acre seed nursery." Alyssa Nyberg, Kankakee Sands Site Assistant

"Several months into the job, my supervisor and I were overlooking a large field of corn. And he told me that we were going to turn this landscape into a thriving, dynamic prairie. At that very moment I heard one lonely cricket chirping and I thought, ‘Are you crazy?’" -Nyberg

Summer 2005- By mid-summer of 2005 the restoration was drop-dead gorgeous, filled with blooming native flowers and short grasses. We couldn’t even find a non-native plant! I was finally convinced that this wasn’t a crazy pipe-dream!” -Nyberg

Fall 2005- "We are in and out of the cold storage room where seeds are stored a lot. The combined fragrances of yellow cone flower, rattlesnake master and low nut rush seeds is the most amazing perfume. Spicy and citrus and green!” -Stephanie Frischie, Seed Collection Manager

Winter 2006- “During the winter, the snow would drift across the roads, creating a dune-like landscape. Yet, in the winter of 2006, even though the winds still blew strong and cold, the lifeless plant stalks of the prairie were trapping the snow, preventing it from blowing off and onto the roads." -Nyberg

Spring 2008- "Driving back from the nursery, my husband Gus and I saw a badger trotting north inside the restoration with a large, dead bull snake hanging out of its mouth. We started frantically digging around for a camera. The badger, of course, didn’t stay and went on its way.” -Nyberg

Spring 2009- "It was after a fire that the “bigness” was really brought home. The fire had completely consumed the prairie’s vegetation and the ground was covered with black ash except for the thousands of plains pocket gopher mounds that looked like miniature white sand dunes. -Ted Anchor, Kankakee Sands Site Manager

"Four hundred acres of seemingly contiguous gopher colony really made an impression on me as to the landscape scale of the project and the opportunity for meaningful conservation at Kankakee Sands.” -Anchor

Summer 2012- "Over 100 biology experts and students gathered to document as many different types of living things as possible this past July. The result: nearly 1,200 species were recorded, from Henslow’s sparrows and sedge wrens to giant sawtooth sunflowers to little brown bats, mud turtles, and insects." -Frischie

The Future- “By any measure, this restoration is a huge success. Going forward, we will focus on managing the restoration (such as invasive plant control and prescribed fire) rather than on planting, which is largely finished." -Ellen Jacquart, Director of Northern Indiana Stewardship

"And given the tremendous prairie habitat that now exists on the site, we’ll be thinking about what animal species we might be able to introduce to the site to give them a spacious a new home.” -Jacquart