Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Located in McHenry County, Illinois and Walworth County, Wisconsin — just an hour’s drive for the 12 million residents of the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Rockford — the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was established as the first refuge found within 100 miles of Chicago in 2012. It will eventually protect 11,200 acres of diverse habitats, remnant prairies and forests, and pristine streams.

Photo: Marty Hackl

Openlands played an essential role at every phase of establishing this area as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s premier system of protected lands. Openlands has worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service alongside an array of national and local conservation organizations partnering to build Hackmatack—including Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife RefugeSierra Club, Illinois ChapterThe Trust for Public LandThe Land Conservancy of McHenry CountyMcHenry County Conservation District, Illinois Department of Natural ResourcesMcHenry County Conservation FoundationDucks UnlimitedGeneva Lake Conservancy, and the Nippersink Watershed Association.


Over time, Hackmatack will become a mosaic of protected lands that provide habitat for grassland birds, recreation and education opportunities for people, and economic development for local communities. A variety of conservation tools are used to protect land for the refuge on the ground, including purchase of land from willing sellers; agreements with landowners, known as conservation easements, that protect the conservation value of the land; and private stewardship agreements aimed at creating contiguous natural corridors.

Openlands is also advancing land protection and restoration at Hackmatack by using innovative revenue streams and leveraging partnerships.  For example, at Twin Creeks, Openlands is protecting important riparian lands along the Nippersink Creek and selling vacant residential lots as a way to help fund the conservation of the highest quality natural areas.

Spanning two states and four of the largest metropolitan areas in the region, Hackmatack is unique in that it is not one single location. As a result, there are various regions within Hackmatack itself that could each serve as day-long adventures. Currently, the best place to see the landscapes and habitats that will be protected by Hackmatack is at Glacial Park in McHenry County (6316 Harts Road, Ringwood, IL). See the map below for directions.