The retreat of glaciers 12,000 years ago and the evolution of tallgrass prairies that followed left Illinois with deep, rich soils. Many of the wetlands were drained, much of the prairie was plowed, and farmland now covers over 80% of our state in place of natural ecosystems. Over the decades, Openlands has developed strong expertise in cutting-edge ecological restoration in order to restore the diversity and beauty of native prairie, woodland, and wetland ecosystems. To date we have restored 4,500 acres, and Openlands has advanced regional knowledge of habitat restoration through research and studies.
One such project is restoration of five sites in the Des Plaines River Watershed in conjunction with the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Chicago Department of Aviation. Funding for these projects was made available by the O’Hare Modernization Program, which seeks to offset the impact on aquatic resources caused by the expansion of Chicago O’Hare International Airport. When completed, this $25 million effort will support rehabilitation and enhancement of over 1,500 acres of habitat, and the project has already influenced the direction of ecological restoration across our region.