A multimillion-dollar restoration project underway at two Will County preserves will blossom in the years to come with hundreds of acres of restored prairie and enhanced conditions for threatened and endangered species.
This transformation is part of an aquatic ecosystem restoration project being undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the Forest Preserve District of Will County. A groundbreaking for the work was held Aug. 6 at Prairie Bluff Preserve in Crest Hill.
The Will County work will enhance and protect two preserves that are linked by underground water flow: Prairie Bluff and the nearby Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve in Lockport Township. Lockport Prairie, which is situated along the Des Plaines River, features wet and wet-mesic dolomite prairie, which are among the most critically imperiled natural communities on Earth.
As a result of this unique geological setting, the preserve is home to several federal- and state-threatened and endangered species.
Before the Forest Preserve acquired the two preserves, the 319-acre Lockport Prairie site served as a flood control area for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the 476-acre Prairie Bluff was a prison farm for the nearby Stateville Correctional Center.
Initially, the Army Corps will spend $2.5 million to replace agricultural fields with native prairie species at Prairie Bluff, remove invasive species at Lockport Prairie, use prescribed burning to keep the prairies healthy and restore the underground water system at Prairie Bluff so it flows unimpeded under Route 53 to Lockport Prairie.
The Army Corps expects to spend up to $5 million at the site to maintain the health of the preserves over the next five years, Col. Reisinger said.
Forest Preserve Board Commissioner Lauren Staley-Ferry noted that the District’s partnership with the Army Corps is just one of many that have helped protect thousands of acres of forest preserve land and have created 125 miles of trails and numerous visitor access sites.
While this is the first partnership with the Army Corps that involves aquatic ecosystem restoration, the two agencies have worked together in the past on a number of highly successful wetland and habitat restoration projects, said Ralph Schultz, the Forest Preserve’s chief operating officer.
For information on the Forest Preserve District of Will County, visit ReconnectWithNature.org.