William W. Powers State Recreation Area is an Illinois state park administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on 600 acres in the Hegewisch community area of the City of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois.
The area includes 419 acres of water in Wolf Lake that provides about six miles of shoreline to fishermen. The park hosts over a half a million visitors annually. The park contains numerous species, and is one of the most important biological sites in the Chicago region. The park is currently operated by a contingent of five full-time and one part-time IDNR employees.
Conservation and Ecosystems
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Water Survey have studied ways to halt degredation of the lake and the USDA Forest Service has conducted a study of public interests in recreation at Wolf Lake on both the Indiana and Illinois sides.
The Wolf Lake water level determines the drainage to Lake Michigan because the connecting Calumet River flows southward during elevated levels and northward during lower levels. Indian Creek is currently the sole outlet of water from Wolf Lake to the Calumet River. As such it forms an important part of the system for lake level and for stormwater management.
The potential for Wolf Lake ecosystem degradation is multi-faceted. It includes exotic plant species proliferation, low diversity of plant and fish species, water depth fluctuation, limited diversity of aquatic habitat, contaminant impact, and shoreline erosion. Most recently, proposed projects from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Zone Office include new aquatic and wetland habitat plantings, shoreline restoration, creating deep holes to locally diversify the lake bottom, herbicidal and biological controls, channel clearing, and dike and causeway construction to restore natural water levels.
As the one and only State Park within Millennium Reserve, William W. Powers State Recreation Area is vitally important to efforts to enhance natural ecosystems and stimulate local economic growth.
William W. Powers State Recreation Area is located on Chicago’s far southeast side, accessed by Interstate 90, Interstate 94, and Highway 41. The main park entrance is located at 126th and South Avenue O. This location places William W. Powers squarely within the Millennium Reserve, a transforming region in the Calumet and southeast Chicago lakefront areas – 210 square miles in all – with thriving commerce, communities, and wildlife.
Wolf Lake extends across the Illinois and Indiana state line between 12th and 134th streets. At one time, the Wolf Lake was connected to Lake Michigan by a creek running through Hammond on the Indiana side, but the creek has long since been blocked by development. On the Illinois side, Wolf Lake empties into Indian Creek, which feeds into the Calumet River. The Illinois and Indiana sides of the lake are separated by State Line Road. State Line Road ends in foot bridges where water enters from the Indiana side.
In total, Wolf Lake is an 804-acre lake that has 419 acres within the City of Chicago, with the remainder in the City of Hammond. Its maximum depth is 20 feet. Wetlands adjacent to the lake include the 250-acre Eggers Woods Forest Preserve, 175-acre Powderhorn Lake Prairies, and 40-acre Hyde Lake Wetland.
In 1947, the State of Illinois acquired a 160-acre parcel known as the Wolf Lake State Recreation Area. Later acquisitions were added to the property and have increased the area. In 1965, the Illinois General Assembly named the area after William W. Powers. Powers was a Chicago alderman on the Chicago City Council and Illinois General Assembly legislator in the 1920s, and used the site for picnics to feed the needy during the Great Depression.
The park also has a military history. There is a defunct Nike Ajax missile honoring the missile site that occupied the area during the Cold War years. Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day ceremonies attract veterans who place flags at markers near a former re-dedication ceremony site.
The park offers grills and has shelters available by reservation for picnicking. Two of the shelters each have capacity for 50 people, and two others each have capacity for 100 people. Fishing and hunting is permitted in accordance with regulations, but camping is not allowed. The park remains extremely popular with anglers and has been the site of several IHSA high school sectional bass tournaments. Ice fishing is permitted in the winter and motorboats are permitted, but must operate “no wake.” The lake has several dikes that temper the wave height and provide additional shoreline fishing access. There are 25 hunting blinds to hunt waterfowl. These sites are awarded in yearly lotteries held in late July. During the season, daily drawings are held to allocate blinds of absentee blind holders.
Wolf Lake contains largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie, bullhead, carp, walleye, hybrid muskie, and yellow perch. There is an occasional salmon trout caught in the lake. Salmon access the lake via the Calumet River and its Indian Creek tributary. This makes Indian Creek one, if not the only, urban stream with a salmon run within Chicago city limits.
Lake sturgeon, endangered in both Indiana and Illinois, as well as banded killifish, threatened in Illinois, are both part of the Wolf Lake ecology.
Native Trumpeter (Cygnus buccinator) and Tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) and non-native Mute swans (Cygnus olor) may all be found on the lake in winter. Tundra swans are absent in summer as they migrate to the arctic and subarctic to nest, however, the non-native, Eurasian Mute swans compete for habitat with the non-migrating Trumpeter swan population and is an impediment to restoration of the native Trumpeters around the Great Lakes. Additional native birds hosted by the lake include cardinals, blue jays, finches, orioles, woodpeckers, teal, mallards, resident and migratory Canada geese, and an occasional bald eagle.
Birdwatchers enjoy the non-native Monk Parakeet, which is a South American parrot, that nests in the park. Hunters enjoy the seasonal waterfowl. The South American Monk Parakeets arrived at the site in 1999 and have since established two nests with seven or eight birds each. They are presumed to have migrated from the Hyde Park community area.
The lake supports the nesting habitat for four species of endangered birds: little blue heron, yellow-crowned night heron, black-crowned night heron, and yellow-headed blackbird.
The park also attracts city dwelling mammals such as squirrels, rabbits, raccoon, muskrats, opossums, and the occasional coyote and white-tailed deer. There is a large population of beaver on the lake currently. An annual trapping program seeks to manage and limit their numbers.