Eric Bird recalled picking up trash in a farm field on Hobart's northwest side while a student working for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
"I thought back then, 'This will be something some day,'" said Bird, now stewardship manager for the Shirley Heinze Land Trust, of the field he was working in.
That day is coming soon, as Bird, fellow land preservationists, local, state and federal dignitaries and residents came together Monday to celebrate the restoration of 350 acres of DNR property in Hobart to its natural state during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Hobart Marsh wetland mitigation project.
The farm field Bird worked on is a portion of the 350-acre tract.
The mitigation, which is about 26 years in the making and will take five years to complete, will satisfy the wetland mitigation obligation for habitats impacted by construction of the Little Calumet River Flood Risk Management Project. The flood risk project consists of levees, flood walls and other flood control features designed to reduce damages from flooding in the Little Calumet River basin in Lake County.
The mitigation work, which actually got underway in January, consists of the restoration and enhancement of savanna and woodland types, and the restoration of emergent wetland, sedge meadows and wet, wet-mesic and mesic prairie, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. In addition to killing off invasive species and planting native ones, the work will include installing signs, fences, off-road vehicle barriers and building three visitor parking lots.
Col. Christopher Drew, commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District, said he first started working on the mitigation project in 1992.
"We're only here today because we were able to develop great partnerships," Drew said, singling out federal, state and local officials, Little Calumet River Basin Commission and passionate residents.
Bruno Pigott, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, also touted the partnerships forged.
"I learned it takes partnerships to get something this positive done. With a joint effort, we will accomplish something for the environment and give something enjoyable to the community," Pigott said.
A Hobart Marsh Master Plan was created with community input as part of the mitigation effort. A vision for the future includes waterways and hiking trails for area residents and others to use.
DNR director Cameron Clark said the site being restored will result in a large conservation area that will provide habitat for wildlife species. He also noted that the DNR property being restored links up to conservation properties owned by the Shirley Heinze Land Trust and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said he was ecstatic to be a part of the groundbreaking ceremony as he recalled discussing a Little Calumet River project back in 1976 with his mentor, the late U.S. Rep. Adam Benjamin.
He said the flood risk management plan helped to protect peoples' lives and properties.
"This part of the project goes toward improving their quality of place," Visclosky said.
"To have this type of nature at our doorstep is just not common in northern Lake County," said Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor
The city is placing six boulders in the Hobart Marsh area, designating each site as a natural area.
The marsh is roughly bounded by Ridge Road to the north, West 61st Avenue to the south, Interstate 65 to the west and Wisconsin Street to the east.
The mitigation is funded by the federal government and administered by the IDNR.