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Celebrating Milestones: 25 Years of Conservation at Kankakee Sands

Kankakee Sands Connects over 20,000 acres

Twenty-five years ago, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) acted on a once-in-a-generation opportunity to purchase 7,200 acres in northwest Indiana’s Newton County. The establishment of Kankakee Sands stitched together existing State-protected lands to connect over 20,000 acres of habitat. To celebrate its 25th year at Kankakee Sands in September 2022, TNC hosted an anniversary weekend in Morocco. Nature Conservancy trustees, staff and conservation partners came together to celebrate all that had been accomplished. An immense undertaking, TNC and partners have restored more than 8,000 acres of agricultural land to prairie by planting more than 600 species of native plants. The prairie now teems with life, including butterflies, birds, and even bison.

Bringing Back Bison

Although bison were not part of the original vision for Kankakee Sands, their re-introduction in 2016 represented a natural progression in the landscape’s restoration. As restoration efforts grew Kankakee Sands to an appropriate scale and habitat composition, TNC and its partners recognized that bison belonged there. Bison are a keystone species, and their grazing is a natural habitat management tool. Now, they are also a highlight for many visitors to the preserve.

Visitors Enjoyed Activities and Announcements

More than 300 people from Newton County and across the state came to enjoy a full day of activities during the weekend. During the celebration, visitors could participate in sunrise yoga on the prairie, guided hikes, bison corral tours, a free lunch and crafts. Volunteers helped with every aspect of the festivities.

Another highlight of the celebration was the unveiling of plans to enhance the visitor experience at Kankakee Sands. Having realized its monumental restoration vision, TNC can now look to the future of Kankakee Sands and shape it into a regional destination, one that provides visitors an immersive experience that also inspires an appreciation for conservation. With the support of the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, TNC is working with partners and community members to create this new vision for visitors of all ages and abilities.

Humans have Stewarded this Land for Generations

As The Nature Conservancy celebrates and reflects on the 25 years of restoration and stewardship at Kankakee Sands, it acknowledges that its time stewarding this land is a mere moment in the long and ongoing use and care of this landscape. Kankakee Sands is part of the ancestral lands of the Bodéwadmik, Myaamia, Peoria, Kiikaapoi, and many other Nations. The biodiversity of the land that The Nature Conservancy now stewards is the legacy of countless generations of care and stewardship by these Nations, whose descendants continue to care for the land in the Grand Kankakee Marsh and beyond.


This story was originally published in the State of the Lands 2023. Read the entire issue digitally here.