The Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge is official.
The national wildlife refuge, the first and only in northern Illinois, currently consists of 72 acres.
The land was bought by Openlands, a regional conservation nonprofit, which then sold it to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in December.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted a 12-acre easement, giving it the ability to establish the refuge.
The process is moving relatively quickly, Openlands Policy Director Lenore Beyer-Clow said.
“I think it’s faster partially because there’s momentum from the local groups that have been working on it and because there’s support in the community,” she said.
Although the 72 acres sit west of Route 47 and north of Charles Road, about 10 minutes north of Woodstock, Hackmatack’s boundaries encircle 11,000 acres in McHenry County and Walworth County in southeastern Wisconsin.
One of the next steps will be acquiring additional property.
The government can do that one of two ways: buy or lease it outright from willing property owners or buy easements that give it partial rights over the property. It’s up to the property owners to decide whether they want to participate.
The establishment doesn’t mean the refuge is open to the public, though, Beyer-Clow said.
The 72 acres must be restored, taking former farmland and converting it back into wetlands and prairie, she said. Then access trails will be set up.
The process could take several years, Beyer-Clow said.
In the more immediate future, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hire a refuge manager who may work in office space provided by the McHenry County Conservation District.
The two entities along with other interested groups will work together to put together a comprehensive conservation plan that will address what types of activities will be encouraged and what kind of access the public will have.
Those items will need to be compatible with the type of habitat protection the refuge is trying to provide.
The focus of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge is to provide wildlife preservation, particularly for migratory and grassland birds, according to the Friends of Hackmatack website. The local nonprofit was behind the initial push to create the refuge.