Sunday, September 20, 2009

Prairie Creek: Will County Waterway

Published in 1878 by William Le Baron of Chicago, "The History of Will County, Illinois, containing A History of the County, its Cities, Towns, &c, a Directory of its Real Estate Owners, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men..."  
is a voluminous work (1000 pages detailing everything from Joliet & Marquette's travels to the topography of Will County to biographical sketches of pioneers to census data detailing the population of each township in 1850, 1860, and 1970.  For example, in 1870, there were 875 people living in Florence Township, 644 of whom are categorized as "Native").  The book also references Prairie Creek.

The book notes that Prairie Creek enters the Kankakee River from the northeast in the township of Wilmington.  Along with Forked Creek, Prairie Creek is described as a "considerable streams in times of high water, sometimes becoming impassable where not bridged, but in dry seasons become mere brooks or dry up altogether...all the large streams abound in the times of Indian occupation they were favorite resorts for fishing and trapping...the timber which filled the native groves and bordered the streams consisted of the various varieties of oak, black walnut, hickory, elm, hard and soft maple...there was a large and vigorous growth of fine trees on the first settlement of the county, most of which in a few years fell before the ax of the settler for the purpose of building log homes, rail fences, firewood, etc, and as soon as the saw mills were built, for timber."

Creeks provided pioneer farmers with a way to water their livestock and timber and stone to build their homes and outbuildings.

In the present day, scholars still document the biodiversity of Will County creeks.  For example, in this article  published by the Field Museum of Natural History, the authors note:

"A total of 112 fish species has been recorded in Will County over the past 107 years; six species are endangered or threatened in Illinois, and 11 species are nonnative. River and creek ecosystems are the predominant fish habitat within the county. Each watershed has its own individual story. For example, Exline Slough fishes represent what would have been found in regional prairie sloughs and wetlands prior to conversion of natural lands for agriculture. Some creeks, such as Plum Creek, hold an above-average diversity of fishes but are isolated by dams and environmental degradation. If the fishes in these creeks are eliminated, they would not return because of limited opportunities for recolonization. Riparian wetlands along the Des Plaines and Kankakee rivers serve as nurseries for juvenile fishes. Hickory Creek is one of the most studied creeks in the Midwest, but unfortunately loss in biodiversity is what has been documented. Jackson Creek is reminiscent of Hickory Creek historically. Hopefully it will not suffer the same fate. The greatest threat to Will County fishes is urban sprawl from the city of Chicago and its associated habitat degradation"


Prairie Creek, near Manhattan, Illinois

Prairie Creek is also flows through the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie , the first national tallgrass prairie in the United States.  As such, Midewin staff conduct surveys and research on Prairie Creek, such as this document  which shares the results of that research.

Prairie Creek is also mentioned in Will County Forest Preserve District documents where the District identifies Prairie Creek Bend in Jackson and Manhattan Townships as a Critical Preservation area.

The Wauponsee Glacial Trail goes over Prairie Creek, between Manhattan, Illinois and the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.


Prairie Creek is also mentioned in the Village of Manhattan's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Prairie Creek as Will County continues to see increases in both residential and industrial development.  For example the Manhattan Comprehensive Land Use Plan listed above lays out the Illiana Expressway over what is now Hoff Road.  A road construction project of that magnitude would certainly alter the region bordering Prairie Creek.

Here are some videos of Prairie Creek, near Manhattan, Illinois