Chicago’s first National Wildlife Refuge: Hackmatack gets go

SHARE Chicago’s first National Wildlife Refuge: Hackmatack gets go

The Chicago area will get its first National Wildlife Refuge.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the authorization of the establishment of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge along the Illinois-Wisconsin border.

It really makes me happy. However, what I find galling is that the plans for Hackmatack only started a few years ago, while plans for the Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge have been kicked around for nearly two decades only to be splintered by bizarre local opposition.

But today is a day to celebrate Hackmatack.

Here’s the assessment from Openlands:

OPENLANDS INSTRUMENTAL IN CREATING CHICAGO REGION’S FIRST NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE ***Secretary of the Interior Salazar Authorizes the Establishment of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge*** (Chicago – August 15, 2012) Today Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar authorized the establishment of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge (Hackmatack) along the Illinois-Wisconsin border between Chicago and Milwaukee. Hackmatack–which will bring economic, educational, environmental, and recreational benefits to the region–began as a grassroots movement that gained national support. At every phase of the project, Openlands, a regional conservation nonprofit organization, played an essential role, including building on-the-ground support through outreach efforts; advocating to local city councils, state and local government representatives, and conservation agencies; and indentifying land protection and acquisition opportunities from willing property sellers. The Secretary was joined for Wednesday’s announcement at Glacial Park in McHenry County by Senator Richard Durbin, a longtime supporter of the project, and leaders from an array of conservation organizations. Work is underway to acquire the refuge’s first piece of land; details will be announced in the coming months. Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge became possible through the work of many local, regional and conservation organizations, most notably Friends of Hackmatack, the local citizens whose vision and work was the project’s impetus; Openlands; Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter; and The Trust for Public Land. Hackmatack is part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to develop a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda. Protecting this land means protecting glacial landscapes and pristine waterways, providing important habitat–including migration corridors–for plants and wildlife, and connecting people in an urban area to nature, said Jerry Adelmann, President and CEO of Openlands. Visitors will be able to experience the beautiful and rare savanna and tall grass prairie landscapes of this glacially sculpted region and to view wildlife such as Upland Sandpipers, Short-eared Owls, and Sandhill Cranes. About Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge Located in McHenry County, Illinois and Walworth County, Wisconsin–an hour’s drive from the 12 million residents of the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Rockford–Hackmatack is the only refuge found within 100 miles of Chicago. It will eventually protect an additional 11,000 acres of diverse habitats, remnant prairies and forests, and pristine streams. A variety of conservation tools will be used in the final creation of the refuge, including outright purchase of land from willing sellers; agreements with landowners, known as easements, that protect the conservation value of the land; and private stewardship agreements aimed at creating contiguous natural corridors. Hackmatack’s benefits to the region include: Economic: Hackmatack can be an economic driver to gateway communities in the designated area. By embracing the special national recognition of the area, the refuge can help communities attract business and economic development while maintaining their unique environment, heritage, culture, and identity. Educational: Hackmatack provides educational opportunities to children from underserved populations from the urban core as well as Latino populations that represent 30 to 50% of the neighboring school districts of Harvard and Woodstock, IL. Unique collaborations with social service agencies, recreational organizations, and outdoor businesses are already in place to facilitate development of curriculum, outdoor classroom resources, and field trips. Environmental: Hackmatack encompasses a post-glacial landscape of lakes, streams, ridges, and valleys that provides habitat for 109 species of concern including 49 birds, five fishes, five mussels, one amphibian, two reptiles, and 47 plants. The refuge provides habitat for grassland and migratory bird species including Henslow’s Sparrow, Short-eared Owl, Upland Sandpiper, and Dickcissel. Recreational: More than 200,000 people a year are expected to visit Hackmatack. The refuge sits at the crossroads of an expansive trail network in both states. Recreation such as hunting, fishing, and birding contribute billions of dollars benefiting local economies. Canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, hiking, and picnicking are all complementary activities on surrounding land, providing health and wellness benefits for people throughout the region. Founded in 1963, Openlands is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations, having helped secure, protect, and provide public access to more than 55,000 acres of land for parks, forest preserves, land and water greenway corridors, and urban gardens. For more information, visit

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