Salt Creek
The 29-mile Salt Creek corridor centers on a waterway that in recent times has been much-maligned for its flooding and poor water quality, although some old-timers who grew up in vanished rural areas of DuPage and Cook counties still recall swimming in it regularly.

Today, a new band of residents, allied with government officials and scientists, are at work to make such memories realities again by turning Salt Creek into a recreational waterway for the hundreds of thousands of suburbanites living in its watershed.

By some measures, they are not very far from their goal. Members of the new public-private Salt Creek Watershed Network have been sponsoring canoe and kayak trips down the clear waters of the creek just downstream from the Busse Woods dam in Elk Grove Village, where the sandy bottom is visi­ble and muskrats often accompany boaters.

Another favorite canoeing area is downstream of Graue Mill in the Hinsdale-Oak Brook area, where the creek flows through forest preserves and great blue heron, deer, beaver, and migratory warblers are visible to water travelers.

The long-term restoration envisioned by the Network (which includes about 150 resident-activists and a similar number of staff from public sector agencies) involves mitigating flood damage and improving water quality. Projects and plans to restore the creek that are well underway include: wetland restoration, developing "water trail" facilities for canoes and kayaks, proposed dam removals and, long-term, improving sewer systems that now dump polluted water into Addison Creek, which feeds into Salt Creek.
In addition:

• the Network has prepared a watershed plan, and is working on educational projects such as its "Experience Salt Creek" water tours,

• DuPage County has drafted a Salt Creek Greenway Plan,

• Sierra Club volunteers are helping to monitor water quality in the DuPage section of the creek,

• the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission and Openlands Project has released a "water trails" report that suggests how recreational facilities can be easily developed along the creek, and

• the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is preparing a study that itemizes significant sources of pollution
It was in the 1960s and the 1970s that the creek's prob­lems multiplied. Accelerated development and channelization led to greater storm runoff while pollution from factories and sewage systems continued. Environmental regulations since then have helped spur improvements, and citizen activism has made tangible progress in restoration. Sometimes fearsome floods have been a factor as well. In Elmhurst, for example, wetlands were restored where flood-damaged property that lay in the creek's floodplain was purchased.

Jeff Swano of Brookfield, executive director of the Salt Creek Watershed Network, says that stormwater runoff remains the creek's number 1 problem, although the Deep Tunnel and Reservoir Project (TARP) and Elmhurst quarry floodwater storage projects should reduce both flooding and pollution in the creek.

It is not just the creek that is getting attention as a recreation corridor. Two decades ago Westchester resident Valerie Spale and a friend decided that something more than piece­meal work was needed to preserve the Salt Creek corridor as an attractive place to live. Local forest preserve and park district officials got involved and today a 30-mile trail is being developed that links Cook and DuPage counties along the creek, ultimately with links to the Illinois Prairie Path and the Illinois & Michigan Centennial Trail. The former Mayslake monastery and grounds have also been preserved as a key cultural center and park along the corridor.

"The whole thing is win-win," says Swano, who cites increased property values and stronger local economies as results of turning Salt Creek from a flood-prone problem into a community asset. "Recreation is its greatest potential"
Salt Creek Greenway Association

Salt Creek Watershed Network