WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Artists Document Farmland's Transformation to Wetland

Sep 24, 2015

The Emiquon Corps of Discovery describes itself as a group of volunteers trained to analyze with the mind of a scientist, see with the eyes of an artist, and speak with the words of a poet.  And that's what they've done for 10 years on the 9,000 acre Emiquon Nature Preserve along the Illinois River near Lewistown.

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Their work pre-dates by a couple years the official beginning of the transformation of the site from farmland, which it was for around 80 years, back to wetland, which it had been for thousands of years before.

WCIAC Board member Linda Lee Blaine points to a detail on one of the pieces.
Credit Rich Egger

“They’ve been able to catch the changes that have been really amazing out there,” said Doug Blodgett of The Nature Conservancy, which along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began buying the land in the 1990s with the idea of allowing it to return to its natural wetland state.

The work of the Emiquon Corps of Discovery is available to more than the scientific community.  The paintings, photographs, and other works are on display at the West Central Illinois Arts Center in Macomb through October 17.

Blodgett said a former co-worker collaborated with the Illinois Natural History Survey to form the group that became known as the Emiquon Corps of Discovery.

“We pride ourselves at The Nature Conservancy with being a science-based organization. (My co-worker) came to me one day and said, ‘You’ve got the science covered but you’re missing the human perspective,’” Blodgett said, pointing out Emiquon is not just important to people today but was, according to archeologists, home to civilizations thousands of years before Europeans arrived.

Emiquon on a late summer afternoon.
Credit Rich Egger

Blodgett said members of the Corps have enjoyed access to portions of the preserve that are not open to the public.  He believes they’ve been able to cover the full gamut of what’s happening there.

“We’re very hopeful that with all those eyes on the ground that we’ll know more about Emiquon than we would without them.”

Blodgett also said Emiquon has helped The Nature Conservancy forge strong partnerships with a number of groups, agencies, and other entities, including the nearby Dickson Mounds State Museum.  He hopes Governor Bruce Rauner does not follow through on his threat to close the museum to save money.

“We just can’t really even conceive of what a detriment it’s going to be to us if Dickson Mounds in fact closes. We’re hopeful that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Blodgett said the museum helps with The Nature Conservancy with archeology and public outreach associated with Emiquon.