| Story by Cindy Cain |
How do you make an ornate box turtle happy? Correct the flow of water to its wetland home to keep the soil moist all summer long.
That’s what is taking place as the Forest Preserve District fills in an agricultural ditch that drains water away from Kankakee Sands Preserve in Custer Township.
The project will help return Kankakee Sands Preserve, an area located between the Mazon and Kankakee rivers in southern Will County, to what it was nearly a century ago when it was a wild region filled with biodiversity.
Eventually, some of this property was harnessed for agricultural production and drainage ditches were carved into the land. Now the Forest Preserve District is taking action to correct some of the drainage flow issues at the site and return the land to its native state – a mixture of wetlands, prairie and savannas.
The Board of Commissioners approved a contract with an excavation company in November 2016, and work to fill in an agricultural drainage ditch will conclude by the end of 2017.
The drainage correction will enhance and expand a wetland area that already exists at Kankakee Sands, a 555-acre preserve located north of Route 113 and west of West River Road in Custer Township. High quality species live there now, but the site is drained by a ditch that runs east from the wetlands and then north under River Road to the Kankakee River.
“It’s wet in the spring, but ditches drain it more quickly, so by summer it’s drier than it should be,” said Julianne Mason, the District’s restoration program coordinator.
While the main ditch leading from the wetland area will be filled in, a downstream portion of the ditch won’t be filled, to allow the adjacent homeowners’ parcels to continue to drain.
Once the work is completed, the preserve will be more inviting to species that require the unique mixture of wetlands and sandy soil, including the state-threatened ornate box turtle.