Powderhorn Lake Habitat Restoration

An aerial view of Powderhorn Lake and Powderhorn Prairie and Marsh Nature Preserve.
An aerial view of Powderhorn Lake and Powderhorn Prairie and Marsh Nature Preserve.

A three-year restoration project at Powderhorn Lake forest preserve will restore more than 100 acres of wetlands. This project is made possible through a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Great Lakes Commission, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Audubon Great Lakes and Forest Preserves of Cook County.

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Located on the far southeast side of Chicago, the Powderhorn Lake forest preserve features both the 50-acre Powderhorn Lake and the Powderhorn Prairie and Marsh Nature Preserve. The preserve supports sand savanna, prairie and wetland habitats and many rare species, like eastern prickly pear, marsh speedwell and rockrose.

Powderhorn’s landscape provides an excellent example of the dune and swale topography—parallel sandy ridges alternating with low wetlands—that was once common in the Calumet Region but now is considered globally rare.

Like locations across the Calumet Region, a century of urban and industrial development has fundamentally altered the natural conditions and processes at Powderhorn. For more than a decade the hydrological conditions at this site have supported unnaturally high water levels in Powderhorn Lake. When the lake fills, water flows into the swales of the nature preserve, increasing invasion by weeds and destroying native plants and animal habitats.

The northern end of the lake is no longer shallow enough to provide an effective fish nursery, impacting the stock of species like northern pike, largemouth bass, yellow perch, and American grass pickerel. The boat launch platform is now very close to the water line, making it more difficult for boaters and paddlers to access the lake.

Restoration Work

This three-year restoration project will restore more than 100 acres of wetlands by reconnecting the northern marsh of Powderhorn Lake, which was once a shallow wetland, to Wolf Lake. Using a water control structure at the north end of Powderhorn Lake, land managers will be able to lower or maintain the water level as needed to recreate historic conditions, allowing water to drain safely from Powderhorn Lake through the northern marsh and into Wolf Lake and the Calumet River.  

This connection will reduce water levels at Powderhorn Lake, helping to reestablish the vital marsh habitat needed to support birds like least bittern, common gallinule and pied-billed grebe. The northern shallows will again act as an effective fish nursery and the connection to Wolf Lake will allow fish to move between lakes, bolstering populations of game and non-game fish like northern pike, largemouth bass, lake chubsucker, and the state-threatened banded killifish. Adjacent neighborhoods will realize some flooding relief as well.

This work is supported by Audubon Great Lakes through a $973,688 grant from Great Lakes Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding.

Design and engineering should be completed in 2020. Restoration work is anticipated to start in Summer 2021.

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