Press Releases

For Immediate Release - Openlands Acquires First Properties to Establish Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

January 11, 2013

CONTACT:    Brandon Hayes
312-863-6260 (office)
(Media inquiries only)


***Successful Completion of Real Estate Transactions Transfers Ownership to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Illinois Department of Natural Resources***

(Chicago – January 11, 2013) The recent completion of real estate transactions orchestrated by Openlands, a regional conservation nonprofit organization, officially establishes the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Ownership of property acquired by Openlands in the wake of the new refuge’s authorization in August was transferred to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). In a ceremony today at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar commemorated Hackmatack’s establishment as the 561st National Wildlife Refuge.

“We are pleased and proud that Openlands’ decades of expertise in land preservation and planning allowed us to secure the first parcel of land for Hackmatack so quickly,” said Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann. “Acquiring these acres is the first step in a process that brings together a spectrum of partners—from private landowners to government agencies and nonprofit organizations—to build the metropolitan region’s first National Wildlife Refuge.”

About the Acquisitions

Openlands was instrumental in protecting the first piece of land comprising Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. On August 15, 2012, Secretary Salazar authorized the refuge’s establishment. In early October, Openlands purchased 72 acres of land in one of the conservation core areas designated for the refuge by USFWS. On November 6, USFWS accepted a 12-acre conservation easement transferred from Openlands, an ownership stake that allows the Department of the Interior to establish the refuge. On December 12, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources purchased the entire 72-acre parcel from Openlands, ensuring its protection. The McHenry County Conservation District has agreed to partner on the restoration and stewardship of the property.

Openlands worked closely with partner organizations to fund the 12-acre parcel now owned by USFWS. Funds from McHenry County Conservation Foundation and Friends of Hackmatack ensured that the parcel would be large enough to encompass an entire wetland complex on the property, including a sedge meadow with important native vegetation.

Openlands continues to bring its expertise in land acquisition to identifying land protection and acquisition opportunities from willing property sellers in order to build Hackmatack toward its planned 11,200 acres of diverse habitats, remnant prairies and forests, and pristine streams. At every phase of the project, Openlands has played an essential role, including working closely with Friends of Hackmatack in building on-the-ground support through outreach efforts and advocating to local city councils, state and local government representatives, and conservation agencies.

About Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge

Located in McHenry County, Illinois and Walworth County, Wisconsin—an hour’s drive from the 12 million residents of the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, and Rockford—Hackmatack is the only refuge found within 100 miles of Chicago. A variety of conservation tools will be used in the creation of the refuge, including outright purchase of land from willing sellers; agreements with landowners, known as easements, that protect the conservation value of the land; and private stewardship agreements aimed at creating contiguous natural corridors.

Hackmatack’s benefits to the region include:

  • Economic: Hackmatack can be an economic driver to gateway communities in the designated area. By embracing the special national recognition of the area, the refuge can help communities attract business and economic development while maintaining their unique environment, heritage, culture, and identity.
  • Educational: Hackmatack provides educational opportunities to children from underserved populations from the urban core as well as Latino populations in neighboring school districts. Unique collaborations with social service agencies, recreational organizations, and outdoor businesses are moving forward to facilitate development of curriculum, outdoor classroom resources, and field trips.
  • Environmental: Hackmatack encompasses a post-glacial landscape of lakes, streams, ridges, and valleys that provides habitat for 109 species of concern including 49 birds, five fishes, five mussels, one amphibian, two reptiles, and 47 plants. The refuge provides habitat for grassland and migratory bird species including Henslow’s Sparrow, Short-eared Owl, Upland Sandpiper, and Dickcissel.
  • Recreational: More than 200,000 people a year are expected to visit Hackmatack. The refuge sits at the crossroads of an expansive trail network in both states. Recreation such as hunting, fishing, and birding contribute billions of dollars benefiting local economies. Canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, hiking, and picnicking are all complementary activities on surrounding land, providing health and wellness benefits for people throughout the region.

Founded in 1963, Openlands is one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations, having helped secure, protect, and provide public access to more than 55,000 acres of land for parks, forest preserves, land and water greenway corridors, and urban gardens. Openlands received generous support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Grand Victoria Foundation and the McHenry County Community Foundation for its work at Hackmatack. For more information, visit

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