Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Since 2005, Openlands has worked to protect the ecologically significant landscapes found along the Illinois-Wisconsin border, acquiring over 1,000 acres of land in Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, and collaborating with partners and community residents to restore it. Openlands is a core member of the Hackmatack Conservation Partnership, which is dedicated to protecting natural and agricultural lands within the broader 30,000-acre greater Hackmatack refuge area.

Located in McHenry County, Illinois and Walworth County, Wisconsin — accessible to the 12 million residents of the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Rockford — Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2012. Hackmatack is part of the National Wildlife Refuge system and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was created as the first federal wildlife refuge within 100 miles of Chicago.

The refuge’s name, Hackmatack (hack-ma-tack), is an Algonquin word for the very old tamarack trees found in the refuge area that are living remnants of the last Ice Age. As land for Hackmatack is protected, the refuge will eventually encompass 11,200 acres of this glacial landscape. Over time, Hackmatack will become a mosaic of protected lands that provide habitat for grassland birds, recreation and education opportunities for people, and economic support for local communities.

Photo: DJ Glisson

“Just as the ground itself retains ancient biological memory, so too do we, as humans, carry the same profound remembering at a genetic level. The land speaks to us in an elegant, primeval, and wordless language that reverberates within our very soul. It sings to us of the long evolutionary journey we are part of, in verses composed of sun-dappled oak savannas and migrating cranes. Hackmatack is, and will come to be as the years pass, one of the concert halls in which we sit breathlessly to hear that symphony.”

-Ed Collins, McHenry County Conservation District

Explore the Refuge

Hackmatack contains rich opportunities to view native wildlife and explore diverse ecosystems, through paddling, hiking, and more.

Path to Preservation

The vision for Hackmatack began around a kitchen table in 2004 and led to the formation of Friends of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge.

Help Create the Refuge

Openlands and other partners are working with volunteers, local landowners, and communities to spread the word about Hackmatack.