Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar marked the official establishment of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge today, Jan. 11, 2013. He acted from afar--in Florida at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge with the laying of commemorative planks. Glacial Park in the Illinois refuge has long been considered one of the jewels of the county’s open space holdings, characterized by its rolling prairie, wetlands, delta kames, oak savanna and the tranquil presence of Nippersink Creek. Hackmatack is the 561st national wildlife refuge in the National Wildlife Refuge System and is the tenth refuge established during Secretary Salazar’s tenure. The National Wildlife Refuge System was created in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt with Florida’s 5.5 acre Pelican Island named the first refuge.
The Hackmatack refuge was officially established with the acquisition of a 12-acre habitat easement donation from Chicago-based Openlands, an organization dedicated to the protection of the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region. As with the planning stages, Hackmatack Refuge will be a true partnership effort that involves many local, state and federal agencies, citizen-driven groups and other nongovernmental organizations. It spans land in southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.
“The establishment of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge will help keep open spaces, including wetlands and grasslands, within easy reach of millions of people living in largely urban areas of Chicagoland and northeast Illinois,” said Governor Quinn.
Restoration of wetlands, prairie and oak savanna will provide environmental education and conservation opportunities for the estimated 3.5 million people within 30 miles of the project area. The refuge will reconnect this urban population with nature and provide outdoor educational opportunities to thousands of children and their families.
“Thanks to the vision of conservation leaders and organizations throughout the greater Chicago metropolitan area, Hackmatack will provide a way to connect children, families and all urban and suburban residents to nature and wildlife,” continued Quinn.
The refuge will benefit a variety of wildlife and plants and their habitats. The boundaries were formulated based on the soils, historic vegetation, watersheds, existing conservation areas, habitat requirements of desired wildlife species, public roads, and comments received from the public. It will link and expand existing conservation areas to benefit migratory birds, endangered species, and provide wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities.
Land conservation methods for four core areas, encompassing up to 11,200 acres in total, will include purchase from willing sellers, conservation easements, public-private initiatives and partnerships aimed at creating contiguous natural habitat. Conservation corridors that connect the core areas will be established primarily through use of partnership efforts and to a lesser degree through willing seller purchase.
It will take years to build. In the meantime, there are a numerous sites in the Hackmatack region that will allow for visitors as land acquisition and restoration proceeds.
- Glacial Park- McHenry County Conservation District site (access from Rt. 31)
Fall is an ideal time to see migrating shorebirds and waterfowl at Glacial Park. Look for them at Lost Valley Marsh or at the newly restored wetlands beside the Lost Valley Visitor Center.
- Four Season Nature Preserve- City of Lake Geneva Park (access from County Highway H)
This small preserve gives you an overview of what the Hackmatack area has to offer: prairies, wetlands, savanna. Walk out to the viewing tower to see the tamarack trees for which Hackmatack is named.
- North Branch Preserve- McHenry County Conservation District site (access from Keystone Rd)
Here’s your chance to see an extensive prairie restoration of the type the USFWS plans for future Hackmatack lands. Prairies such as found here provide vital habitat for grassland-dependent birds such as the Henslow’s sparrow, Short-eared owl, Upland sandpiper and Dickcissel. The North Branch of Nippersink Creek runs through this site. Corridors along Nippersink Creek will be used to link the core areas of Hackmatack NWR.
- Peterkin Pond- Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources site (access from West Side Rd)
Sandhill cranes flock to this site during their spring and fall migrations. Best viewing is at dusk or dawn from White Pigeon Rd.
Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge will also provide habitat for 109 species of concern that include Federal and state threatened and endangered species and birds of conservation concern. The list includes 49 birds, five fishes, five mussels, one amphibian, two reptiles and 47 plants.
Learn more about your new refuge.
Amy Lou Jenkins is the award-winning author of Every Natural Fact: Five Seasons of Open-Air Parenting. She writes from Wauwatosa, WI. Contact her at www.AmyLouJenkins.com.