Dream of Hackmatack refuge now a concept

RICHMOND – Rick Landry generally sees a national wildlife refuge park nearby as a “good thing for the community.”

“I look forward to the potential,” said Landry, owner of 2K Adventure, a shop that sells outdoor recreation and camping equipment in Richmond.

He said he hopes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sits down with area entrepreneurs and small businesses and comes up with “a plan for positive economic impact.”

The 11,000-acre Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge designated by the U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday circles northeastern McHenry County and Walworth County in southeastern Wisconsin. It will be the first and only national wildlife refuge in northern Illinois.

Despite the designation, the refuge remains largely a concept. The process of acquiring the land for Hackmatack – a Native American term for the tamarack tree – lies ahead. The Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to acquire land from property owners willing to sell their land, and land within the refuge’s boundaries is not subject to eminent domain.

Printed on Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge brochures and other promotional materials is a quote from American poet Carl Sandburg: “Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

The saying reflects how local and regional advocates reached the milestone of establishing Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge.

The dream started eight years ago in a kitchen full of conservationists with a shared vision, said Lenore Beyer-Clow, a Woodstock resident and member of the Friends of Hackmatack steering committee.

The group comprises about 70 public and nonprofit organizations.

Pushed by the Friends of Hackmatack, the Fish and Wildlife Service developed a proposal to create the refuge in January 2010. That fall, federal officials sought feedback online and in public hearings.

The government has two options to acquire land: it can buy it outright from those willing to sell or lease property from landowners. Wildlife officials also may buy easements giving them partial rights over property.

“It’s totally voluntary,” said Randy Schietzelt, president of the McHenry County Audubon Society, which supports the Friends of Hackmatack.

Schietzelt has high hopes for Hackmatack.

“I look forward to seeing the large landscape restoration to where you get to view what the pioneers would have seen when they arrived here,” he said. “What Illinois would have looked like and to get to experience it also.”

He said putting property into the national refuge system will be McHenry County’s gain.

“If it’s a federal site, it makes it so much more of a destination,” Schietzelt said. “ ‘Hey, they’ve got something special here.’ And it funnels people to the area.”

As an avid bird-watcher, Schietzelt and fellow Audubon Society members often take bird-watching trips in the region.

“And it also involves stopping for lunch somewhere,” he said.

At 10310 N. Main St. in Richmond, Landry’s business rents out kayaks and snowshoes, especially to adventure-seekers on their way to Glacial Park, which is five miles away.

It’s too early for Landry to forecast the economic impact the refuge may bring to his business and community, but the potential is there.

“It has great potential if it’s done right,” he said. “I don’t really know what their plans are. But I think it will be great as long as the public has access to it.”

Among his concerns is how public access and federal regulations will balance on the national refuge.

“For example, my family and I go kayaking down the Wisconsin River, and we see deer, bald eagles, everything,” Landry said. “We see their habitats and enjoy the beauty of nature. If they create such regulations and say you can’t go in this area because you might disturb an endangered nest, I don’t know how a lot of people would benefit from that other than, say, a biologist.”

Schietzelt said the design and scope of the refuge mainly depend on how much land is acquired from willing sellers and under what terms.

The purpose of the national wildlife refuge, with protection of endangered wildlife as its priority, is to enhance public access to the lands and provide greater recreational activities such as fishing, hunting and cycling, Schietzelt said.

To learn more

For information about the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, go to www.hackmatacknwr.org.

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