Orland Tract Restoration


Section 206, Water Resources Development Act 1996, as amended (Continuing Authority Program)


Orland Tract is a 960-acre site located in Orland Park, in southwestern Cook County, Illinois.  The property is owned and managed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC). It is located in the Village of Orland Park, in southwestern Cook County, Illinois approximately 25 miles southwest of the city of Chicago. The entire site is an important resting and forage site for the Lake Michigan migratory flyway.


The site is a marsh and wet prairie complex. The Orland Tract site is the headwaters for three streams thus forming their riparian zones. Without removing the drain tiles and restoring native vegetation, the higher elevation riparian areas will not provide the necessary groundwater discharge and chemistries to the other communities and headwater streams. Success in restoring the aquatic ecosystem is dependent on restoration of the higher elevation riparian zone so an adequate supply of water is available for the aquatic portion of the project.


This project will restore 658 acres of the site by re-establishing hydrology and the native riparian zone, removing invasive species, providing connectivity and wet grassland bird nesting structure, increasing native species richness and encouraging public education. Immediate short term ecological effects include: elimination of invasive species and their seed sources and the restoration of open space, water and sunlight for native species, and the structure of a globally rare plant community. Long term ecological effects include healthy ecosystem habitats hosting many more viable populations of some of the region’s most concerning bird species such as marsh and wet prairie dependent bird species. In addition, socioeconomic benefits would result from the much larger and healthy ecosystems that will be enjoyed “in perpetuity” by the passive recreational users who visit to hike, bird watch, study nature, etc. A population of Sand Hill Cranes, a migratory bird species, follows the western shoreline of Lake Michigan along its migratory pathway and moves inland for stopover resting periods. This population uses the Orland Tract grassland as a stopover point during spring and fall migrations. Increasing the area of functional marsh and wet prairie areas will increase the habitat suitability of Orland for this population of migratory birds. The federally endangered migratory Whooping Crane has been documented as using another, smaller, grassland area near Orland Grassland. According to the latest bird census numbers, collected by the Audubon Society, Orland Tract hosts the largest abundance of birds in the region. Overall, migratory bird species would greatly benefit by restoring the wet grassland area of Orland Tract.


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More than 57,000 native plants and 5,500 pounds of native seed have been planted in the grassland, and without the drainage tiles, more than 50 acres of seasonal and year-round wetland have reappeared. About a dozen native grassland bird species were still in the preserve when the restoration process started. Species like the bobolink and meadowlark have seen their population grow exponentially. Now that the heavy machinery from the project construction is off the site, hundreds of species will return in large numbers every year.


Construction was completed in November 2013.  The project was turned over to the local sponsor in March 2014, and was closed out in September 2014.