August 9, 2012
By Chris Young
HAVANA — Two wetland-restoration projects along the Illinois River received international recognition during ceremonies held at both locations Wednesday afternoon.
The Emiquon Complex in Fulton and Mason counties and the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin-Hopper Lakes in Putnam County were designated “Wetlands of International Importance” by the Ramsar Convention.
Ramsar is an intergovernmental treaty established in 1971. Member countries commit to conservation and “wise use” of wetlands and their resources. Wetlands have to meet a set of criteria to qualify.
Only 34 sites in the United States have received the designation.
The Emiquon Complex includes The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Emiquon and Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuges. In all, the complex adds up to about 14,000 acres of restored wetlands along the Illinois River near Havana.
The Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin and Hopper Lakes is 2,750 acres in size and is owned by the Wetlands Initiative.
Both sites formerly were drained for agriculture and have been restored.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon incorporated Wednesday’s ceremony as part of the Illinois River Coordinating Council meeting at Dickson Mounds Museum, which serves as visitor center for the Emiquon Complex.
The plan was to link the two sites with a live feed over the Internet so attendees, and viewers online, could see and hear speeches at both locations. But so many people tried to access the feed that the system was overwhelmed and the connection was lost.
Following a lakeside toast, Douglas Blodgett, director of river conservation for The Nature Conservancy, said he’s looking forward to the next chapter.
“We’re going to pause and celebrate a little bit, but I think what is real important is that it gives us hope for the future,” he said. “It is going to motivate us to keep going. These (restorations) can be extremely successful. We’ve seen that.”
Lee Albright, former manager of the Chautauqua and Emiquon National Wildlife Refuges, has viewed the restoration from afar after moving earlier this summer to North Dakota, where waterfowl and shorebirds are finishing up raising their broods for the year.
“Knowing that in a couple of months that a lot of those birds are going to be coming through here using this habitat, that is what makes it special for me,” he said.
Michael Wiant, director of Dickson Mounds Museum, said Emiquon opens up new educational possibilities.
"I think what is next is that people who come to the museum or to the wetlands will have an opportunity to learn in ways they couldn’t have conceived of before this was created,” he said. “We’re getting school kids here, and we can talk about human history, their relationship with nature and how nature works.
“It has become an immense classroom.”
Michael Lemke, director of the University of Illinois at Springfield Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon, said he hopes the recognition prompts more students to take advantage of the site that is just over an hour’s drive from Springfield.
“As we know, (the Emiquon story) is a story of human history, anthropology, economics and the list goes on and on,” he said. “I think UIS students should jump on it with both feet.”