The Grand Kankakee Marsh once covered more than 500,000 acres in Indiana and was famous for its abundance of fish and wildlife. The Izaak Walton Leagues in Indiana and Illinois are calling for 10 percent of that area to be restored to its natural state. Photo submitted by Izaak Walton League of America
The Grand Kankakee Marsh once covered more than 500,000 acres in Indiana and was famous for its abundance of fish and wildlife. The Izaak Walton Leagues in Indiana and Illinois are calling for 10 percent of that area to be restored to its natural state. Photo submitted by Izaak Walton League of America
GRIFFITH — A local environmental group is joining its neighbors to the west in calling for restoration of one the former natural wonders of Northwest Indiana.

The Illinois and Indiana divisions of the Izaak Walton League of America have adopted policies calling for a restoration of 10 percent of the Grand Kankakee Marsh in Indiana, according to Indiana Division president Keith Halper.

The Grand Kankakee Marsh once covered over 500,000 acres in Indiana and was famous around the world for its abundance of fish and wildlife, he said.

But the marsh lands were drained by 1923 and the river channelized from a 250-mile meandering river to a 90-mile artificial ditch. Flooding and erosion problems are now common throughout the basin and are getting worse every year,” as anyone who lives in southern La Porte County can attest to, Halper said.

“Not only can we bring back a small part of an incredible natural resource, we can fix most of flooding and erosion problems caused by the draining of the Grand Marsh a century ago,” he said.

Jim Sweeney has been a member of the Indiana IWLA Kankakee River Committee for 25 years, and said there are no groups or agencies currently talking about restoring any of the Grand Marsh.

“With all the development moving into the Kankakee River basin, we need to do this now,” he said. “If we don’t, a future generation will spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars on a flood control project like what they did on the Little Calumet River, except it will cost a lot more then.”

That’s why the Ikes have decided to start the campaign.

“This campaign will be asking the Governor of the State of Indiana and the General Assembly to restore a small part of a resource that was destroyed before we knew all of its benefits.”

If the Grand Marsh had survived,“it would be a national park today,” Sweeney said.

Charlie Palmgren, president of the Illinois Division, said it’s a campaign the Ikes have been endorsing for nearly a century.

“The Izaak Walton League was founded in Chicago in 1922 by 54 anglers and sportsmen,” he said. “They knew what was lost on the Kankakee. We passed a resolution in support of a federal migratory bird refuge on the Kankakee River in 1933.”

Now, the League is asking anyone who supports restoration of a small part of the old Grand Marsh to write to the governor and their state senators and representatives, and tell them why they think it’s a good idea.

“This is a win-win-win situation,” Halper said of helping wildlife, improving water quality, and helping solve flooding and erosion.

“Bring back some of the marsh and we fix these and other problems.”