Newsroom Midwest Region

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

Five years of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

November 6, 2017

Tamarack tree in fall color. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.
Tamarack tree in fall color. Photo by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

One of the midwest’s newest national wildlife refuges is celebrating its fifth anniversary today! Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2012 to connect and restore a large landscape that includes blocks of grasslands, wet prairies and natural streams interspersed with cities and towns. Help us mark the occasion by learning a little about what makes this young refuge so special.

The refuge gets its name from the Algonquin Indian word for the tamarack tree. Known by different names to different people over the centuries, tamaracks are also called eastern larch, American larch, black larch, takmahak and hackmatack.

Located in southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, Hackmatack was built from the ground up by the conservation community. The refuge was officially established with a 12-acre habitat easement donation from Chicago-based Openlands, an organization dedicated to the protection of the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region. As with the planning stages, the refuge is growing as a true partnership effort that involves many local, state and federal agencies, along with citizen-driven groups.

Hackmatack is a great place to get involved with people who want to make a difference in their local community. We’ve been partnering with Friends of Hackmatack and the McHenry County Conservation District to provide environmental education and conservation work days since 2012. Opportunities range from pulling garlic mustard and other invasive plants, to learning about mist netting and bird banding first hand.

In addition to restoring habitat, Hackmatack will provide a future place to welcome millions of people from the Milwaukee-Chicago area. The refuge aims to reconnect this huge population with nature and provide outdoor educational opportunities to children and their families.

Hackmatack is home to special wildlife and habitats

A Blanding's turtle crossing a refuge road. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
A Blanding's turtle crossing a refuge road. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

Hackmatack provides habitat for more than 100 species of concern, including almost 50 species of birds and one very special reptile - the Blanding’s turtle! These secretive turtles nest in sandy uplands and rely on shallow, calm wetlands where they eat aquatic plants and insects. The habitat they need is disappearing and they are designated as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in both Wisconsin and Illinois.

Hackmatack historically consisted of wetlands, oak savanna, woodlands and prairie. Today, with the exception of existing conservation estate land, only small, often isolated pockets of these habitats exist on the refuge. The landscape also includes the sculpted remnants from its glacial past.

What’s next for Hackmatack?

Nippersink Creek wetland at Glacial Park. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.
Nippersink Creek wetland at Glacial Park. Photo by Tina Shaw/USFWS.

Currently, the Friends are working on a grant they secured from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation to raise funds and promote stewardship on two parcels of land located within the footprint of Hackmatack. Ultimately, more than $34,000 will be raised to buy plants and seed to support ongoing restoration efforts at these sites.

Visitors can get a glimpse of what Hackmatack will become by visiting Glacial Park and the Lost Valley Visitor Center, managed by the McHenry County Conservation District. Here, visitors can experience a full suite of wetland birds, including the iconic whooping crane - often spotted during breeding season or during migration.

Celebrating the future and appreciating the past

This series of articles is inspired by the long history of land managers and biologists who protect, restore and conserve our National Wildlife Refuge System lands. As our midwest refuges reach milestone anniversaries, we will highlight what makes them special. Look for historic photos, lesser known biological and geological tidbits and reflections from the people who know them best - refuge field staff. Learn more »