In the early 1900s, the Illinois River was one of North America’s most ecologically and economically significant river systems. It supported the most productive inland commercial fishery and highest mussel abundance per mile of any stream on the continent. Even though it has undergone significant land conversion during the past century, the river was identified as one of three large-floodplain river ecosystem restoration priorities in the United States by the National Research Council.
About an hour southwest of Peoria, Ill. lies the Emiquon Preserve, one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the Midwest. Emiquon once was the jewel of the Illinois River, nurturing diverse and abundant communities of native plants and animals in the complex system of backwater wetlands and lakes. From the hundreds of nearby archeological sites, including Native American villages and ceremonial and burial mounds, to the acres of modern fields of corn and soybeans, this land is a quiet testimony to the abundant natural resources that supported more than 600 generations of civilization in this area.
A Wetland is Reborn
In spring 2007, The Nature Conservancy turned off the pumps that had dried out the land since the 1920s. Within months, water reappeared in the historic lakebeds, and native plants began pushing up through the soil where their seeds had lain dormant for years. Providing flood water storage, the backwater lakes now protect the surrounding communities during seasonal flooding and Emiquon’s former cornfields are now rich in fish. Today, Emiquon is the premiere demonstration site for The Nature Conservancy’s work on the Illinois River and within the Upper Mississippi River system.
The Evolution Continues
Emiquon transformed quickly from cornfield to wetland, but the evolution continues today with the commitment of wetlands conservation staff, funding from The Nature Conservancy and an investment from the Caterpillar Foundation. Emiquon has evolved into a rich resource for the community for both conservation and recreation. For more information about the Emiquon Preserve, click here.
Our investment in the Great Rivers Partnership and Emiquon is not just about wildlife or development, but how the two can come together to preserve one of the most essential elements of life--water. It's where ecological concerns meet economic realities and it represents the future progress of conservation.