Wide Open Spaces in the Kankakee Region
“There never was anything quite like the old Kankakee marsh in northwestern Indiana. … The superabundance of its feathered game and fur and fish was next to unbelievable.” –William Bridges, New York Zoological Society, Nov-Dec, 1935
As the Wisconsin Glacier melted 16,000 years ago, the moraines of the Valparaiso area north of the Kankakee Region acted as dams, trapping melting water and forming glacial Lake Chicago. Those meltwaters finally overtopped the moraines, unleashing the Kankakee Torrent, a huge flood that left enormous sand deposits here in the Kankakee Region. Black oak savannas and sand prairies flourished in this sandy soil. The Kankakee River meandered through these flatlands, flanked on either side by wetlands that spanned hundreds of thousands of acres. A scarcely imaginable abundance of wildlife lived in these marshes, prairies, and woodlands.
That landscape changed dramatically in the early 1900s as marshlands were drained and converted to agriculture, the Kankakee channelized, and the prairies plowed. At several sites within the Kankakee Region, you can see impressive remnants of this native landscape—from the Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area, where tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes gather during fall migration, to Kankakee Sands, where The Nature Conservancy has restored 5,000 acres of wetlands and prairie. Many of these sites offer few visitor amenities—often little more than a parking area. This lack of development makes these great places to see wildlife and immerse yourself in nature.
While dramatic natural sites like the Aukiki Wetland Conservation Area dominate the Beyond the Beach Discovery Trail here in the Kankakee Region, you’ll also find cultural sites like Dunn’s Bridge, believed to have been constructed of steel salvaged from the world’s first Ferris Wheel exhibited in Chicago in 1893. As you explore the region, be sure to stop in the community of Kouts for a heaping serving of home cooking and Midwestern hospitality.
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