The Most Crooked River in the World
The Waters of the Kankakee and the Nature of Time
Jon T. Coleman
The Kankakee River was once the crookedest river in the world, flowing for 250 miles, but coming to its end at the Des Plaines River only 95 miles away from where it started. At one time it drained one of the largest wetlands in North America. But over time its channel was altered, to straighten its path and to allow acres of cropland to be drained for development. Its many pools and bogs, swamps and marshes disappeared as the “problem” they presented to agricultural interests was solved by engineering solutions. Advocates for draining and dredging made – and sold – the argument that the wetlands were a wasteland and that “improvement” was inevitable.
Lost in this process were vast regions that were rich in wildlife; this moisture-filled ecosystem had long been a diverse engine of biodiversity and a source of sustenance for centuries from trapping, hunting, and fishing as well as from tourism. Sometimes referred to as the “Everglades of the North,” the wetlands of the Kankakee are an underappreciated treasure.
In The Most Crooked River in the World: The Waters of the Kankakee and the Nature of Time, Jon Coleman sets out to help us understand what happened to the Kankakee by turning back the wheels of time and reversing the history of the river as if to run a movie of its life story backwards. It’s a daring move that puts the changes that were imposed on the Kankakee, and the changes that might be considered to remediate some of their impact, in a new and startling light.