Re-elect Dan Lipinski Congressman

Will County, Army Corps Turn Former Prison Farm Into Prairie


Daily Southtown

With the flip of a shovel, officials of the Forest Preserve District of Will County and the Army Corps of Engineers launched a project to turn a former prison farm into a restored prairie.

Just north of the former Joliet Prison, at the site of the Prairie Bluff Preserve on Renwick Road, forest preserve leaders joined with ACOE Colonel Aaron Reisinger and U.S. Rep Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, Monday afternoon to mark the beginning of an aquatic restoration project spanning hundreds of acres in two preserves.

A $2.3 million bid was awarded last December to Applied Ecological Services, with options to do an overall $4.3 million of work. It will restore 400 acres at Prairie Bluff Preserve and 300 acres at the Lockport Prairie Nature Preserves, which includes one half of the rare wet dolomite prairie in the world, said Ralph Schultz, chief operating officer for the forest preserve district.

The two sites – which sit west and east of Route 53 – are interconnected through groundwater discharge.

Work at Prairie Bluff will include disabling drain tile to restore the natural hydrology, which will improve the groundwater flow to Lockport Prairie, officials said.

Through prescribed burns, control of invasive species and planting and restoration of native vegetation, the prairie will be restored, monitored and maintained over the next five years to ensure that the plants become established.

Lockport Prairie is home to the federally endangered Hine's emerald dragonfly, leafy prairie clover and lakeside daisy; the state-endangered golden corydalis and spotted turtle; and the state-threatened stiff sandwort and Blanding's turtle.

The forest preserve and Army Corps have worked together for over a decade to develop plans and funding for the project and to secure ownership of the land, said forest preserve district President Suzanne Hart, R-Naperville.

This project will “improve and protect both preserves for generations to come,” she said.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Lipinski, who helped secure funding for the effort through the Water Resources Development Act. “It is important for this area and beyond. We will continue to do what we can to protect the environment.”

Reisinger said the project had to overcome a “lot of challenges” that included policy and budgetary changes, and he thanked the forest preserve district for its “patience.”

It is one of 33 aquatic restoration projects the ACOE has been part of in the Chicago area, he said.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District bought the Lockport Prairie land 86 years ago for flood control, but it was not until the 1970s that the “uniqueness of the prairie” was recognized, said forest preserve commissioner Annette Parker, R-Crest Hill.

In 2011, the forest preserve district was able to acquire that land, and in 2015, the state transferred ownership of the Prairie Bluff Preserve property to the district, making this project possible, she said.

“Partnerships with agencies matter a great deal,” Schultz said.

This is the first time the district has worked directly with the Corps on an aquatic restoration project, but it has worked with them on wetland and habitat restoration efforts at Hadley Valley, Messenger Woods, Rock Run and Theodore Marsh, he said.

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