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Everglades of the North

November 06, 2012 (Updated: 5:43 PM)

WNIT Public Television proudly presents "EVERGLADES OF THE NORTH" on Thursday, November 8 at 8pm on channel 34.1.  Less than a century ago, the Grand Kankakee Marsh saturated large portions of St. Joseph, LaPorte, Marshall, Starke, Porter and Lake Counties in Indiana and part of Illinois.  This documentary reveals the diverse ecology, illustrates the astonishing history, and explores the controversial saga of the Grand Kankakee Marsh and how people have used and perceived this wetland for more than 10,000 years.

The Grand Kankakee Marsh may have been as large as one million acres in northern Indiana and Illinois and was home to some of the highest concentrations of wildlife and waterfowl in North America.  Less than 5% of the Kankakee River marshes survived modern development and the film explores the important role this wetland played in the history of the area.

The documentary looks at the natural and cultural history of the area and the different uses of the land from the earliest Native Americans to the European settlement to modern agriculture.  The marsh was from two to fifteen miles wide for the length of the Kankakee River in Indiana and was the largest contiguous marsh in Indiana and one of the largest on the continent.

Portions of the Kankakee Marsh soil were a black, sandy loam, three to six feet deep. This was potential prime farm land; all that was needed was to remove the water. Once the actual draining process began and well connected land speculators became involved, the drainage project became unstoppable. The voices of those who objected to the project could not be heard over the din of the steam shovels.

"This has been an incredible experience," said producer Pat Wisniewski, founder of For Goodness Sakes Productions in Valparaiso.  "We've met scores of wonderful people who love the Kankakee River and its fabled marsh and wanted to share their stories with us."

She teamed up with friend and syndicated columnist Jeff Manes of Lowell, who grew up on the Kankakee River and approached Wisniewski about creating a story about the marsh. "It didn't take long for us to realize we needed to make this documentary," he said. "We need to tell this story."

"It's a missing piece of American ecology," said Cedar Lake native Brian Kallies, who has produced, shot and edited documentaries for PBS, WGN and the Showtime cable network.  "The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh is a vital slice of Midwestern history," said the former Lakeshore Public Television producer and production manager.  Lakeshore is the PBS "presenting station" for the film.

WNIT will also broadcast a special edition of ASK AN EXPERT immediately following “Everglades of the North” on November 8 at 9pm. Three local experts will discuss the past, present and future of the Grand Kankakee Marsh and its effects on the Michiana ecology and economy.  The live, call-in program is hosted by Gary Sieber.