Hobart Marsh Protection Completed (IN)

HOBART, IN, 5/9/2005 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national non-profit conservation organization, announced today that a multi-year project to protect and save nearly 400 acres in and around Hobart – land that lay in the path of the Chicago region’s development wave — is now complete.

Now mostly farmland, the Hobart Marsh property eventually will be transformed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into perpetually protected open space that will be returned to the pristine condition it was in before settlers first arrived in Northwest Indiana.

The project’s completion marks a long-term cooperative effort that involved Congressman Pete Visclosky, the Trust for Public Land, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission, local officials and local conservation leaders.

“This project is important in so many ways to so many people, officials and activists alike,” said Chris Slattery, president of TPL’s Chicago office. “We thank Congressman Visclosky for being the driving force behind the project, along with the landowners, public agency officials, local volunteers and private donors who played a role in this partnership project to create a significant new nature park just 35 miles from Chicago.”

A Brief History

The land protection project got its start in the late 1980s when the federal government charged the Little Calumet commission with completing an unprecedented $190 million flood control project that is still underway today. Congressman Visclosky was crucial in securing the federal dollars for this work. When complete, some 6,000 structures between Interstate 65 and the Illinois border – including many homes and businesses – will no longer be threatened by what is now the Little Calumet River’s flood plain.

“Now that the Hobart Marsh acquisition is finalized, it is time for all parties to move ahead as quickly as possible,” Congressman Visclosky said. “This flood control project needs to move faster in order to provide the relief to those stuck in the flood plain.”

The flood control project required re-working land along the banks of Little Calumet River. In some cases, this meant removing wetlands. Required to replace those wetlands, the commission searched for suitable land, eventually deciding that the best place to accomplish their goals was in the Hobart Marsh region.

Because the area already is home to roughly 1,000 protected acres, local conservation leaders and officials quickly realized the needs of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission also benefited those hoping to expand and connect the protected land into a larger system threatened by piecemeal development of smaller farms in the area. The IDNR also saw the benefit and agreed to take over and manage the newly-acquired lands.

After encountering several challenges in their attempts to purchase the land, officials asked TPL, a national organization with decades of experience in securing land for public use, to make the Hobart Marsh land buys a reality.

“It’s safe to say that without TPL’s help, the wetland mitigation portion of our project would’ve been much more difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish,” said Dan Gardner, executive director of the Little Calumet River Basin Development Commission.

Today, tomorrow and beyond

John Bacone, who directs the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s nature preserves division, said restoring the land means removing farm drain tiles, along with non-native plants that may be growing there. Native Midwest prairie plants will be planted, along with savannahs of native burr oak trees. Even the immediate future, — a continuation of farming — will be helpful to later restoration efforts.

“It means the land won’t be sitting empty, allowing harmful weeds and other plants we don’t want to overtake the area while we plan for the land’s future restoration,” Bacone said. “At some point, we envision the possible development of hiking trails that snake throughout this region so the public an experience nature at its best.”

The Hobart Marsh land adds to the region’s existing protected land bank, and helps form a ring of open space that will increase the local quality of life, restore many acres of wetlands and help fulfill a regional goal to create a greenbelt along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. The former EJ&E railroad line, which has been converted to Lake County’s Oak Savanna Bike Trail, also connects the new land to Hobart’s Robinson Lake Park, offering easy access to the new nature sites.

The Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law, to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. Regional accomplishments include the protection of Plum Island near Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, numerous city parks in Chicago and the protection of various properties within the Hoosier National Forest in Southern Indiana. Nationwide, TPL has helped protect more than two million acres. To learn more visit www.tpl.org