Marsh History

Indiana Grand Kankakee Marsh History

The greatness of the marsh that once covered a large part of northwest Indiana is well documented. The marsh was one of the largest freshwater wetland complexes in the United States, encompassing 500,000 acres in eight counties.

Wetlands and prairie habitats were intertwined with the Kankakee River as it meandered its way from South Bend to the Illinois state line, taking a 240-mile course to cover the 75-mile distance. The meager fall of only five inches per mile combined with the numerous bends created a giant wet prairie environment. Wildlife and plant life thrived, as did the activities that these resources supported.

The Grand Marsh supported a local economy that was built around waterfowling and fur trade. With waterfowl in abundance, sportsmen came from all over the world to hunt. There are many accounts on record of the great bounty harvested from the Marsh, with stories about barrels of frog legs and railroad cars of wild game destined for the Chicago markets.

Change in the Marsh came with development. As human populations grew, so did the need for land. The fertile soils of the river bottom provided some of the finest ground for growing crops. A mammoth effort to drain the area by channelizing the river transformed the Grand Marsh from a great producer of wild things into an impressive producer of grain. Where once a local economy was supported by those that employed the Grand Marsh for a rich bounty of fish and game, a thriving farming community emerged. As wildlife habitat was replaced by agriculture, the wildlife was displaced.

Justified by the needs of man, the Grand Marsh lost its personality as it was divided and drained over the years.

With only fragments of the great ecosystem left for our generation to ponder and experience, the potential for loss of the remaining vestiges of the former wetland expanse proved to be too much for some to face. An effort was launched to search out support for a project that would enable small areas of the Grand Marsh to be restored.