Since spring 2001, two backwater lakes, wetlands, prairies, fens and seeps have been flourishing on former corn and soybean fields along the Illinois River at the Hennepin & Hopper Lakes Project near the towns of Hennepin and LaSalle in northeastern Illinois . The abundance of nature should not be surprising, considering that for centuries?prior to the arrival of European settlers?this slice of floodplain along the Illinois River held a pair of backwater finger lakes between the high bluffs to the east and the wide river to the west. The lakes hosted thousands of waterfowl each year, earning the nearby town of Hennepin the moniker the Duck Capital of the World.
The fortunes of the birds began to turn, however, when Illinois passed the Swamp Land Act in 1852, authorizing the sale of ?swamp land? to settlers for 80 cents per acre?and some severely floodprone lands at only 10 cents per acre. The intention of the early purchasers was to ?improve? the land by draining it.
By 1908, landowners in the floodplain banded together to create the Hennepin Drainage Levee District. The new district built a levee to wall off the river, and installed a pump to drain the lakes. By fighting off the water, farmers were able to grow corn and soybeans on the fertile floodplain for most of the 20th century.
In the 21st century, however, the site is being returned to its 19th century landscape. In 2001, The Wetlands Initiative (TWI) acquired control of the land from nine landowners. Immediately, TWI turned off the pumps. Within weeks, the water?and the birds?were back. By fall, water from the natural seeps, springs, and precipitation flowed over nearly 1,000 acres, even though the levee was still intact.
More than 230 species of birds have been recorded on the Hennepin and Hopper Lake property since restoration began. The lakes themselve attract coots, geese and ducks during fall and spring migration. Thousands of
American White Pelicans may pass across or stop on the lakes on a single fall day. During migration, Bald Eagles congregate in trees in a savanna.
In addition, the wetlands here attract nesting Yellow-headed Blackbird, Pied-billed Grebe, Virginia Rail, Marsh Wren, Least Bittern, Ruddy Duck and other marsh breeders.
This site was chosen as an IBA because it met the criteria for waterfowl and breeding Pied-Billed Grebe and Common Moorhen.