Photo credit: Janet and Phil (Creative Commons)

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Explore the wetlands


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Wetlands: A Natural Filter

Chicago Wilderness is home to one of the most diverse collections of wetlands in North America. This vital habitat for plants and animals is home to orchids like white lady slippers, great blue herons, great egrets, black-crowned night herons and ducks like the blue-winged teal.

The benefits of wetlands include:

  • their role as nature’s flood control centers
  • their ability to naturally filter water
  • opportunities for recreation such as canoeing and wildlife viewing

Most of the wetlands in the Midwest have been drained or filled; Illinois alone has lost approximately 90% of its wetlands. The Chicago Wilderness alliance works to restore these fragile ecosystems.

Types of Wetlands

Marshes are the most extensive type of wetland. Concentrated along rivers and low-lying areas, their characteristic clumps of vegetation emerge from standing water. Discover marsh habitat in the Dick Young Forest Preserve/Nelson Lake Marsh (Batavia, IL) and Moraine Hills State Park (McHenry, IL).

Fens occupy hillsides where a constant flow of ground-water from upland areas keeps them wet. Their groundwater is rich with calcium and other minerals. Fens of the region include Bluff Spring Fen (Elgin, IL) and Lake in the Hills Fen (Lake in the Hills, IL). Sedge meadows are formed in areas where soil is saturated with water but not submerged. Species dwelling in sedge meadows have keenly adapted to the challenge of living on soil that is sometimes under water and sometimes above. Grainger Woods Conservation Preserve (Mettawa, IL) and Glacial Park Conservation Area (Ringwood, IL) feature sedge meadows. 

Other types of wetlands in Chicago Wilderness include bogs, pannes, seeps, springs and swamps. The acidity of bogs, the alkalinity of fens, the constant disturbance of pannes, and the cold temperature of springs provide just the right home for a diverse array of sensitive species, from the bluebell dragonfly to the northern cricket frog. Explore bog ecosystems at Volo Bog State Natural Area (Volo, IL) and Elizabeth Lake Nature Preserve (Richmond, IL). Trout Park Nature Preserve (Elgin, IL) features both seeps and springs. Illinois Beach State Park (Zion, IL) includes a globally rare panne. 

Getting up close and personal to a wetland can be tricky, but not impossible. Some of the region’s wetlands are accessible by boardwalks, others are circled by trails; you can also canoe through wetlands with deeper water.