Little Calumet River Conservation Action Plan (CAP)

The Conservation Action Plan (CAP) presents a framework for improving the health of nature and the quality of life for communities along the six-and-a-half-mile corridor of the Little Calumet River from its confluence with the Cal-Sag Channel to its confluence with the Grand Calumet River.



The CAP identifies sites that are high priorities for acquisition as open space and for protection, ecological restoration and management, and for connecting communities to the river and landscapes along its banks. It also suggests conservation targets and strategies for each site to achieve its vision. The plan was developed by Openlands, the Metropolitan Planning Council, and the Field Museum, integrating input from many other partners, including landowners, managers, and local communities.

The Calumet Region frames the southern shore of Lake Michigan in Illinois and Indiana and has a unique ecological heritage, including dune and swale habitats that support rare species.  Beginning in the second half of the 1800s, farming and then industrial development resulted in the transformation and fragmentation of the landscape, as marshes and wet prairies were drained, railroads were laid down, and industry was established.  The CAP introduces a set of strategies to restore the land and water, plant pollinator-friendly landscapes, and connect neighborhoods to regional trails. More specific conservation strategies include removing invasive species, restoring oak savanna and wetlands, installing crevice habitats within the Calumet riverbanks to support fish populations, and utilizing prescribed burns in prairie areas.

Sites were identified as a “priority” for this project in part by looking at managed areas, open space, and vacant parcels along the river on an interactive map created for this project. This map combines layers to help provide an understanding of the ecological condition of the sites. In addition, the team developed spatial data in a GIS file outlining the priority areas and linking them to a matrix of characteristics, including size, connectivity, high-quality habitat, and connections to neighborhoods.

Conservation Action Planning in Calumet

Conservation Action Planning is part of a strategy undertaken across the entire Calumet region of Illinois and Indiana to inform conservation decision-making by coordinating action among stakeholders, using the most recent information, and prioritizing steps that are both strategic and actionable.

Other CAPS for Calumet geographies in Indiana including the West Branch Little Calumet River can be found here.

Making the Calumet Region a National Heritage Area

Efforts are currently underway ​to achieve National Heritage Area designation for the Calumet Region. Congress designates National Heritage Area status through legislation to recognize lived-in places where natural, cultural, historic, and recreational resources intersect. Achieving this status in 

Calumet would lead to more opportunities for sustainable economic development, improve quality of life, education, and stewardship, increase community engagement and pride, and foster a regional identity more strongly connected to the National Parks system. Learn more about how a National Heritage Area designation would benefit the Calumet Region here.

The Little Calumet River flows through several south-side Chicago neighborhoods and 180 years of African American history—sites and figures whose impact remains with us today. The African American Heritage Water Trail was created to honor this history by memorializing the remarkable stories of African Americans who settled along the river: freedom seekers who traveled the Underground Railroad, trailblazers who defied discrimination, learned to fly, and became Tuskegee Airmen, and pioneers in the struggle for civil rights and environmental justice. These stories of courage and fortitude have shaped our nation.

Meet Our Expert Staff

Openlands Staff Chris Bourbois
Conservation Ecologist
Openlands Staff Lillian Holden
Regional Water Trails Manager
Openlands Staff Laura Barghusen
Director of Restoration and Trails
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