Movie review: Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh (2012)

Everglades of the north? A grand marsh? I was born and raised in Northwest Indiana and spent a good portion of my adulthood in southern Indiana. I grew up knowing of the Kankakee River, but not its history. Not the existence of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.

For years I crossed back and forth over an area that had been one of the largest wetlands in the US. Covering nearly a billion acres. The story of its destruction mirrors the destruction done countless other places in the US over the centuries. Man sought to destroy nature for money. And he succeeded.

The Potawatomi Indians were driven from the land. The wildlife hunted in droves, to feed the city of Chicago, the appetites of pleasure hunters, and the pockets of men. The river was dredged so that the twists and turns with sandy banks and wildflowers were wiped away. The land of the marsh was drained and sold as expensive farmland. The result? The marsh shrank to 5% of its original size.

Much was lost. But in the past several decades, effort has gone into bringing the marsh back. This effort is being rewarded with the return of wildlife not previously seen by people living in the area. The marsh has not completely disappeared though the beauty of the river was forever altered, turning the river into a ninety mile ditch from South Bend in the east right up to the Illinois state line in the west. (The dredgers were set to continue to dredge the river across the state line but were stopped by armed Illinoisian hunters and trappers.)

In December 2011, the Everglades of the North initiated a Kickstarter project, aimed at raising funds to produce a DVD of the same name. The project was successfully funded, surpassing the $5,000 pledge goal by $1,100, thanks to the 71 backers. The Facebook page for the Everglades of the North lists countless discussions and viewings of the DVD.  PBS has broadcast the DVD. The Field Museum hosted a screening. The film was nominated for a Chicago Emmy in 2013.

If you get a chance, attend a screening or show up for a discussion. Better yet, visit the marsh. The Everglades of the North is free from alligators, but hopefully, you will find the ghost of the Grand Kankakee Marsh to be rich in other wildlife. And getting richer each passing year.



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