Is Hennepin Wetlands Most Diverse Spot in State?

A piece of Putnam County might be the most biologically diverse part of the state.

The Hennepin and Hopper Lakes, part of the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, offer more flora, fauna and fish than anywhere else around.

 As far back as 2001 the area was just farmland. It was an area with a broken down levee that just wasn’t cutting it anymore. That’s when The Wetlands Initiative began as they purchased the land, turned off water pumps and tried to restore it to its former glory.

Paul Botts, the executive director of the initiative, spoke at Spring Valley city hall on Tuesday evening about the changes taking place in the wetlands area.

Botts said his team addressed old maps that showed how diverse the prairie and wetland area was. Then after World War I it was turned into farmland.

“We like to say that for 75 years only two plants grew there; corn and soybeans,” Botts joked.

Although the statement is technically not true, the biological diversity of the area was completely tarnished. Botts said people thought it impossible for his team to turn the area from farmland back into a thriving ecosystem, but TWI set out to prove them wrong.

“Even when the area has been altered for decades you can bring back wetlands of real high quality,” Botts said. “But it’s not as simple as turning the pumps off and getting the water back.”

Changing the 3,000-plus-acre property back took a lot of donations and effort. The initiative encountered many problems with drainage tile and invasive carp. Common carp are bottom feeders that kill a lot of different plants and create muddy stagnant water. The carp became such a problem in the lakes that they caused a scientific anomaly.

“We proved carp can survive and breed in drainage tile,” Botts said.

But the carp are no longer a problem as the team destroyed the invasive species over a three-year period. Now plant diversity levels have hit their highest mark since the wetlands were opened.

Now that the carp are no longer a problem, the area will be open to fishing. Botts said that the lakes will be open to the public under Illinois Department of Natural Resources guidelines as soon as the paperwork is finalized through the state. He expects that to happen in the coming months.

The goal of The Wetlands Initiative team always has been to create a place for the public to enjoy.

“Our perspective always was to do this for the people. It’s an asset,” Botts said.

The initiative holds plans for the future beyond opening the area up for fishing. It already has an observation tower for bird watching and boardwalk trails that go into the marshes. There are plans to create even more trails into next year and then open up to the public for future suggestions.

“We don’t intend for this place to be for just right now. We intend for it to be for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Botts said.

Source: News Tribune