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The Calumet River Basin

The Calumet River Basin is important to Chicago’s Maritime History. The bodies of water in this region south of Chicago are part of the Illinois International Port District, which handles ships navigating the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Chicago's waterways
Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The Calumet River Basin consists of three major rivers located on Chicago’s Southside. These rivers are named the Calumet, Grand Calumet and Little Calumet Rivers. This basin was the site of a substantial Native American village and contained an abundance of wildlife that supported the village. The name Calumet refers to an intricate, hand-carved pipe of peace given by the Illiniwek to their beloved Peré Marquette in 1673. Later, the Pottawatomi owned the land and sold it to the U.S. government. These rivers were named Kalamick River on some 1830’s maps.

This biologically diverse land of streams, lakes and wetlands contains three ecosystems, Eastern deciduous forest, coniferous forest and tall savanna. It became the site of manufacturing and heavy industry as Chicago grew in the late 1800s. The result was extreme pollution, hazardous waste and deterioration of the ecosystems. The EPA and Chicago are successfully working to reclaim the land, but there are still a few abandoned areas of hazardous waste.

Today, Lake Calumet, where the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet Rivers meet, is the site of the Illinois International Port District, Chicago’s major port. The port is about six miles from Chicago and contains four major facilities. At the mouth of the Calumet River, where it flows into Lake Michigan, the port district operates the Iroquois Landing Lakefront Terminal. The Lake Calumet Terminal facility operates in the lake where the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet meet. Grain storage is available along the shores of Lake Calumet. The Foreign Trade Zone #22 is located in the area about 60 miles from Chicago.

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