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Press Release: Audubon Great Lakes, Forest Preserves Break Ground on Major Habitat Restoration Project at Powderhorn Lake to Restore 100 Acres of Wetlands

Marsh restoration project to bring back birds, fish and alleviate flooding on the  Southeast side of Chicago 

CHICAGO –  Audubon Great Lakes, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Great Lakes Commission, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hosted a groundbreaking ceremony to officially kick off a major restoration project to restore more than 100 acres of wetlands by reconnecting Powderhorn Lake to Wolf Lake. The project will reestablish marsh habitat, reduce flooding and help ensure a resilient future for the wildlife and people who depend on the region.

The groundbreaking ceremony kicked off with a land acknowledgment and speaker presentation from Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, Arnold Randall, General Superintendent, Forest Preserves of Cook County,  Michelle Parker, Vice President and Executive Director, Audubon Great Lakes, Loren Wobig, Director, Office of Water Resources, IL Dept. of Natural Resources, Great Lakes Commission, Olga Bautista, community member and Executive Director of South East Environmental Task Force and Kimberly Neeley Du Buclet, Commissioner, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Great Chicago.

“In Chicago and in the suburbs, the Forest Preserves protects native lands and provides residents with opportunities to enjoy the natural world. I’m proud that this investment on the Southeast Side will forward both these aspects of our mission,” said Cook County Board and Forest Preserves of Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle. “I’m grateful to our partners who share our commitment to the Calumet region and restoring these habitats.”

Powderhorn is home to about 250 plant species, 2,500 insects and 40 to 100 bird species, depending on the season. The 50-acre freshwater lake is embedded within one of the few remaining examples of dune-and-swale topography that once characterized the Calumet Region along the south shore of Lake Michigan but now is considered globally rare. 

“Powderhorn Lake and Nature Preserve is a special place. For many years, we’ve discussed how to bring back critical wetlands, knowing the huge impact that will have for local wildlife. Today is a big step in reaching that goal. I’m excited that when I visit here next year, I’ll see these historic habitats begin to return,” said Forest Preserves General Superintendent Arnold Randall.

For a marsh to thrive, the water level needs to be just right. To maintain the delicate but important balance of water and plant life, the project will include the development of a water control structure at the north end of Powderhorn Lake that will allow land managers to adjust the water level as needed to maintain healthy wildlife habitat and conditions by allowing water to drain safely from Powderhorn Lake through the northern marsh and into Wolf Lake and ultimately Lake Michigan. Currently, Powderhorn Lake remains separated from its northern neighbor, Wolf Lake, which connects to Lake Michigan through the Indian Creek pathway to Calumet River. 

“At Audubon we know what is good for birds is good for people. Recent scientific studies of bird populations have sounded the alarm. We know North America has lost more than a quarter of its bird population in the last 50 years,” said Michelle Parker, Vice President and Executive Director of Audubon Great Lakes. “We are working to ensure that the waters and lands of this iconic ecosystem remain healthy for the communities of birds and people and thankfully we know what to do and have the amazing community and agency partners in place to reverse this trend of wildlife declines and at the same time alleviate some of the flooding and issues facing the Southside communities.”

Like many locations across the Calumet Region, a century of urban and industrial development has fundamentally altered the natural conditions at Powderhorn. For more than a decade, unnaturally high-water levels in Powderhorn Lake have destroyed native plant and animal habitats making it difficult for them to thrive and has posed a flood risk to nearby neighborhoods.  

The connection will help to reestablish the vital marsh habitat that birds like the Least Bittern, Common Gallinule and Pied-billed Grebe rely on for survival. Powderhorn Lake’s northern shallows will once again act as an effective fish nursery, while the connection to Wolf Lake will allow fish to move between lakes, bolstering populations of game and non-game fish, including Northern Pike, Yellow Perch and Grass Pickerel. 

The project will also benefit surrounding communities, who will experience flood relief as well as the return of natural spaces, birds and other wildlife to the region. 

Funding is provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/Great Lakes Commission (GLC) Regional Partnership. 

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