IISG’s Aquatic Ecologist Leslie Dorworth quoted in the Post-Tribune about the ecological richness of the Little Calumet region:

The flood control levee protecting residents and businesses along the Little Calumet River between Interstate 65 and the Illinois state line is more than just a concrete and earthen barrier.

State and local environmentalists, conservationists and wildlife biologists say it harbors rare and endangered flora and fauna species and offers tremendous recreational potential in the backyard of an urbanized area.

“It’s one of the best kept secrets around,” said John Ervin, a coastal ecologist in the DNR’s division of nature preserves. Ervin said, botanically speaking, the Calumet Region at the southern tip of Lake Michigan has the highest concentration of plant diversity on the continent.

“We’re in a botanical gold mine,” he said. “The Dune Swale is a rare and unique thing noticed early on by botanists. And the Little Calumet River is an important waterway and its shoreline highly productive.”

He said last year a cougar was spotted near Chicago and bobcat traces have been found in the area for the first time in decades.

“The whole region surrounding the Little Calumet is a national treasure,” he said. “There’s this string of pearls of natural areas and 13 preserves and land trusts throughout the region and people need to go out and experience them.”

Leslie Dorworth, an aquatic ecology specialist at Purdue University Calumet who works for the Illinois Indiana Sea Grant, a bi-state research and outreach program, said the Little Calumet corridor includes endangered plant species and a wealth of birds, mammals and reptiles.

“And most people barely notice it’s there,” Dorworth said. “They don’t seem to know what’s around them or maybe they just don’t bother looking up. It has the full opportunity to be something more than a forgotten local river.” Read more.