• by Kirk Gaw

Watching The Kankakee Marsh Reawaken After February Floods

After last weeks record rainstorms throughout Northern Indiana you can clearly see that the natural flooding of the topography is as normal as the marshlands that are here. The area network of rivers and streams continue to overflow their banks just as they always have. The encroachment of civilization has always affected the wildlife habitats of the many species of the largest inland marsh in North America . Residential, agricultural, and industrial land uses have always adapted the Grand Kankakee Marsh area! It starts on the southwest side of South Bend and carries westward through Illinois and on to river tributaries that empty into the Mississippi.

Flood 2018 Photo By Katelyn McGriff

The Kankakee River is no longer just one of Indiana's extensive water drainage systems. It encompasses approximately 3,000 square miles of river basin which includes at least thirteen northwestern Indiana Counties.

The restoration of the natural marsh is slow and almost non-existant but, there is a movement at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to maintain several locations along the Indiana stretch! Especially, the Kingsbury area!

Kankakee Flood 2018 Photo by Tiffany Marie

Land use in the river basin is predominantly agricultural, with over 75% of the land used for cropland, pastureland, or forest land. Extensive corn, soybean, wheat, and hay fields surround the Kankakee River. Consequently, the Kankakee system is quite important in providing drainage for these agricultural lands. Much of the basin was dredged and channelized in the early 1900s to aid waterflow from these lowland areas. Although dredged and straightened, the Kankakee River still offers scenic and enjoyable canoeing waters. The banks have revegetated, and much of the once-rich marsh areas are becoming productive again.

Flood 2018 By Katelyn McGriff

The Potawatomi Indians were early settlers of the Kankakee River basin and used the marsh areas as a refuge against the ferocious Iroquois of the east. French explorers, such as Charlevoix, La Salle, Tonti and Father Hennepin, were among the first to chart the area. Soon the white fur traders moved into the Kankakee marshland to take their claim of the abundant numbers of fur-bearing animals. After treaties in 1832 and 1836, the Potawatomi relinquished control of their lands in northwest Indiana, and all but a few moved from the Kankakee River basin. The fur trappers derived most of their wealth from muskrat pelts, although beaver and other fur-bearers were harvested. The muskrat harvest during the 1834-1884 period averaged between 20,000-40,000 pelts per year.

Highway 104 Flood 2018 By Katelyn McGriff

The immigrant farmer became increasingly present after the Potawatomi moved from the valley. Crops of wild rices and sedges from the marshland were harvested for hay and pasturage. Sportsmen's clubs became prevalent as fur trapping, waterfowl hunting and fishing in the "Grand Marsh" became well known. Mallards, pintails, spoonbills, teal, bluebills, wood ducks and the sandhill crane were abundant in the Kankakee marshlands during this period. Trapping trails, roads, railroads, cabins, motels and resorts became numerous in the Kankakee River basin as man began to develop it. As agricultural development became greater, the demand for channelization began.

Highway 104 Flood 2018 By Katelyn McGriff

A massive channelization program began in 1911, and by 1917 the main Kankakee channel was straight. The width of the main channel now varies from 75 to 180 feet with an average depth of 4-5 feet. The Kankakee's average fall is approximately 1 foot per river mile and flow is generally at 3-4 miles per hour. Forest land in the Kankakee basin is generally in oak-hickory, or beech-maple-birch succession. Other tree species include ash, sweet gum, white pine, aspen, cypress, black cherry, black walnut, cottonwood and sycamore. Marsh grasses and sedges, wild rice, cattail, spatterdock, smartweed and many other forms of marshland vegetation are still present in the wetlands along the Kankakee.

Photos of 2018 Kankakee Flood By Tiffany Marie

Wildlife habitat is excellent in the river's natural marsh areas, and the wildlife includes beaver, muskrat, deer and many species of waterfowl. The greater prairie chicken, sandhill crane, osprey and golden and bald eagles are examples of rare species located in this important wetland area. The sloughs and marshy bottomlands along the river provide excellent wildlife habitat and afford river users the opportunity to observe a variety of species. Walleye and northern pike, large and smallmouth bass and various panfish are found in the waters of the Kankakee.

Kankakee Flood Photos By Tiffany Marie

Photos of 2018 Kankakee Flood by Tiffany Marie

Although most of the Kankakee River may be canoed? The river section between Kingsbury and the Indiana-Illinois have access sites with boat ramps. All canoeists should register with the Indiana State Fish and Wildlife Area property manager before using these facilities. – Indiana Kingsbury State Fish and Wildlife Area

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