The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be spending millions of dollars in the next couple of years to remove invasive species, encourage native plant growth and replenish the underground water source for a patch of extremely rare habitat in the Forest Preserve District of Will County’s Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve.
Lockport Prairie features wet and wet-mesic dolomite prairie, which are among the most critically imperiled natural communities on Earth. More than half of the high quality wet dolomite prairie in the world is located at the preserve, which is home to endangered and threatened species.
The Army Corps released a bid packet for the project on Nov. 17 and bids will be opened Dec. 19. Restoration work could begin this winter and it will span an estimated five years. The project will total $2.5 million initially, but there could be additional appropriations in the coming years to fund more restoration options.
"The Forest Preserve and Army Corps of Engineers have been working together for over a decade to develop a strategy to preserve and enhance Lockport Prairie," Ralph Schultz, the Forest Preserve's chief operating officer, said in a press release. "We're excited this project is moving into its next phase with a significant investment by the Corps in preserving the future of one of Will County's natural wonders."
Lockport Prairie inhabitants include the federally endangered Hine's emerald dragonfly, leafy prairie clover and lakeside daisy; the state-endangered golden corydalis and spotted turtle; and the state-threatened stiff sandwort and Blanding's turtle.
The project falls under Section 206 of the Water Resources Development Act, which protects aquatic resources in the United States. The project’s goal is to restore the natural habitat and critical groundwater relationship between the Forest Preserve's Prairie Bluff Preserve in Crest Hill and Lockport Prairie in Lockport Township.
As groundwater from Prairie Bluff moves slowly toward the Des Plaines River, it flows into Lockport Prairie where it seeps from a bluff or percolates above ground creating habitat for a diversity of plants and creatures. But the preserve is getting drier because the flow of groundwater has been reduced by decades of human activity, ranging from excavation ofthe I&M Canal to the creation of parking lots and roads in the area.
According to a 2015 Lockport Prairie project feasibility study, the Hine's emerald dragonfly's reproductive output has dropped due to declining habitat, and the leafy prairie clover's population is waning. Both species depend on the wetland habitat found within dolomite prairies.
"Other signs of hydrologic disturbance have also been observed, most notably the death of several of the state-listed spotted turtles due to the drawdown of ground water while they hibernated," the study stated.