Hickory Creek
The Treasures of Hickory Creek
by Joel Greenberg

Hickory Creek was born in the time of the last glacier, which disappeared about 13,800 years ago. Small lakes formed on plains nestled between glacial ice and moraines, the ridges of crushed earth deposited by the sheets of ice. (Harlan Bretz described these water-bodies as "huge mud puddles, unattractive to anyone but a geologist.") One such lake was known as Lake Tinley, which had an outlet flowing west towards the Des Plaines River valley. That channel became Hickory Creek, the source of whose headwaters is the lowland that replaced the lake when the ice melted.

Hickory Creek runs for 27 miles from its origins in southwest Cook County to its confluence with the Des Plaines River at Joliet. Twenty-five tributaries enter the main stem, of which Spring Creek, Marley Creek, and Union Ditch are the largest. The total area drained by these streams is about 107 square miles. This watershed was a microcosm of the entire region. There was rich prairie on the extensive plains, fecund marsh in the low lands, barrens and savannas on rolling moraines, and even stately forests in ravines and west side of streams.

From their headwaters to mouth, streams are not uniform but vary significantly in character. Most of the upper portion of Hickory Creek is flat, creating a low-gradient stream that gently meanders towards its mouth. But then as it approaches the steeper lower valley, the water picks up speed. Water moving over a hard bottom and fed by springs gains oxygen, attains greater clarity, and creates a substrate of various size rocks free of sediment. The more variation there is in the creek, the greater the range of organisms that can find suitable habitat. And, in particular, these conditions are essential to many of the more disturbance-sensitive animals like darters and stoneflies.

Most of the streams of the Chicago region, including the larger rivers, held little water during the dry months of summer or early fall. Hickory Creek, however, was different, as this description from the 1830s attests: "Hickory Creek was a well behaved stream which never failed to furnish abundant water for cattle farmers and the mills, some of which operated year round. It was a well defined body of water lasting the whole year. It was well stocked with fish of the pickerel and pike species, with bullhead and catfish."

Joel Greenberg 3926 N. Washington Westmont, IL 60559-1114