Chi-Cal Rivers Fund Awards $1.2 Million in Conservation Grants to Improve Waterways, Habitats and Greenspace in the Chicago/Calumet Region

Landmark Bridge over the Chicago River

CHICAGO (November 15, 2021) – Chi-Cal Rivers Fund partners today announced six projects selected to receive $1.2 million in grant funding to improve and enhance waterways in the Chicago-Calumet region. These investments will protect and conserve fish and wildlife habitat, reduce stormwater runoff, and improve access to and use of natural areas and greenspace for communities. The grants will generate $1.6 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $2.8 million.

Administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the fund is supported in 2021 with contributions from BNSF Railway, Cleveland-Cliffs, Crown Family Philanthropies, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Hunter Family Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, the Walder Foundation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. The awards announced today mark the fund’s eighth annual slate of grants, bringing its total cumulative impact to $35 million. 

“The Chi-Cal Rivers Fund is committed to investing in projects that improve water quality and deliver a suite of benefits for both wildlife and people,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “These latest grant awards will support efforts to add more than 1.9 million gallons of stormwater storage, create 28 acres of neighborhood greenspace, restore and enhance 32 acres of wetland and upland habitat, and control invasive species on more than 165 acres.”  

“We value this important partnership to achieve multiple goals of flood resiliency, watershed health, habitat restoration, and benefitting the lives of the diverse human communities who live along our region’s rivers,” said David Farren, executive director of the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation. “By coordinating and leveraging our collective funds for these grants, we can achieve a greater impact, and learn from each other in the process.”

“As the cleanest mode of ground freight transportation in the nation, BNSF appreciates the work of the Chi-Cal fund and being a partner in bettering the region’s waterways,” said Peter Skosey, executive director state and government affairs of BNSF Railway.

“The Chi-Cal Rivers Fund understands and elevates the role of collaboration in advancing healthy ecosystems,” said Frank Baiocchi, executive director of the Hunter Family Foundation. “From funding partners with a wide range of expertise and perspectives to grantees who convene, guide, and lead governments, corporations, nonprofits, and residents to build sustainable solutions for entrenched environmental inequities, the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund ensures that all efforts can have the comprehensive support they need to be successful.”

The six grants announced today will restore wetland and riparian habitat to benefit migratory birds and native fish species such as longnose gar; install green stormwater infrastructure that reduces runoff and creates community greenspaces to enhance residents’ quality of life; and continue to improve habitat in Chicago and northwest Indiana through tree planting and invasive species control. 

The six Chi-Cal Rivers Fund 2021 grants include:

  • Friends of the Chicago River will improve function and accessibility of Thorn Creek by removing invasive species, improving stormwater infiltration, and enhancing habitat for Illinois species of concern such the wood thrush and red-headed woodpecker in Sweet Woods Forest Preserve. Project will restore 118 acres of Thorn Creek resulting in an additional 1.9 million gallons of stormwater infiltrated into the soil per rain event.
  • OAI, Inc. will reduce localized flooding and prevent pollution from entering priority waterways by maintaining green stormwater infrastructure for communities in Illinois and northwest Indiana disproportionately impacted by flooding. Project will provide community-based training and enhance over 1 million square feet of green infrastructure for self-sustaining maintenance.
  • Shedd Aquarium Society will install floating wetlands and create in-stream habitat to promote biodiversity and shoreline resilience for wildlife and lead community stewardship activities for the South Branch of the Chicago River. Project will engage the public, improve 2 acres of greenspace and install 35 floating wetlands for native fish and migratory bird species.
  • Shirley Heinze Land Trust will restore riparian habitat for birds and improve public greenspace in underserved communities through habitat restoration, invasive species control and installing green stormwater infrastructure along Deep River in the town of New Chicago. Project will improve 0.55 acres of public greenspace through community-led process and restore 23.7 acres of riparian bird habitat.
  • Save the Dunes Conservation Fund will restore and improve habitat and public access along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River corridor to enhance water quality, wildlife habitat and stormwater storage. Project will advance regional goals through a collaborative approach and restore 32 acres of prairie and floodplain habitat, control invasive species on 45 acres and create 7.7 miles of riverfront trails.
  • The Student Conservation Association will reduce stormwater runoff and create urban habitat by planting 500 new trees in northwest Indiana. Project will build upon previous investments and continue to improve water quality at a regional scale while engaging the community and volunteers.

To learn more about the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund and the six projects announced today, please visit

About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation 
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) works with the public and private sectors to sustain, restore and enhance the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats for current and future generations. Chartered by Congress in 1984, NFWF has grown to become the nation’s largest private conservation grant-maker, funding more than 19,700 projects and generating a total conservation impact of $6.8 billion. Learn more at

About Cleveland-Cliffs
Cleveland-Cliffs is the largest flat-rolled steel producer in North America. Founded in 1847 as a mine operator, Cliffs also is the largest manufacturer of iron ore pellets in North America. The Company is vertically integrated from mined raw materials and direct reduced iron to primary steelmaking and downstream finishing, stamping, tooling, and tubing. The Company serves a diverse range of markets due to its comprehensive offering of flat-rolled steel products and is the largest supplier of steel to the automotive industry in North America. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland-Cliffs employs approximately 25,000 people across its mining, steel and downstream manufacturing operations in the United States and Canada. For more information, visit

About BNSF Railway
BNSF Railway is one of North America’s leading freight transportation companies. BNSF operates approximately 32,500 route miles of track in 28 states and also operates in three Canadian provinces. BNSF is one of the top transporters of consumer goods, grain and agricultural products, low-sulfur coal, and industrial goods such as petroleum, chemicals, housing materials, food and beverages. BNSF’s shipments help feed, clothe, supply, and power American homes and businesses every day. BNSF and its employees have developed one of the most technologically advanced, and efficient railroads in the industry. We work continuously to improve the value of the safety, service, energy, and environmental benefits we provide to our customers and the communities we serve. You can learn more about BNSF at

About Crown Family Philanthropies
Rooted in the legacy of Arie and Ida Crown, as well as the Jewish tradition of tikun olam—or repairing the world—Crown Family Philanthropies (CFP) is driven by more than 70 years of family commitment to social impact. Crown Family Philanthropies’ Great Lakes grantmaking supports efforts to address water quality, habitat conservation, and basin-wide policy to ensure that the Great Lakes are protected and restored for the use and enjoyment of people and wildlife for generations to come. 

About The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation
Established in 1952, The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation supports land conservation, artistic vitality, and regional collections for the people of the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. In the Chicago region, the Foundation focuses its land conservation support on innovative and inclusive conservation efforts that steward natural and working lands; integrate climate resiliency; advance policy advocacy and public engagement; and provide benefits to both natural and diverse human communities. See more about the Foundation at

About The Hunter Family Foundation
HFF provides grants and leadership to improve lives in a long-term and sustainable way by supporting education, healthcare, economic development, and the environment in communities where Hunter family members live. Our environmental granting focuses on advocating for policy and behavior changes to enhance land conservation and water protection efforts in the Great Lakes region, as well as hyper-local work to ensure community members can access natural areas. 

About The Joyce Foundation
The Joyce Foundation is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in the future of the Great Lakes region by supporting policies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation. We support policy research, development and advocacy in areas that have a significant impact on quality of life: Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, Democracy, and Culture. Based in Chicago, Joyce focuses its grant making in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We also collaborate with funders and other partners to explore promising policy solutions in other states or at the federal level. For further information, please visit, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

About the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leads the nation’s environmental science, research, education, and assessment efforts. The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. For more information, visit

About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to work with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

About the U.S. Forest Service
Established in 1905, the Forest Service’s mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains one of the largest forestry research organizations in the world. Public lands managed by the Forest Service provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply and contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. The agency also supports sustainable management on about 500 million acres of private, state and tribal forests including forests in urban areas. For more information, visit

About the Walder Foundation
The Walder Foundation was established by Joseph and Elizabeth Walder to address critical issues impacting our world. The Foundation’s five areas of focus—science innovation, environmental sustainability, the performing arts, migration and immigrant communities, and Jewish life—are an extension of the Walders’ lifelong passions, interests, and their personal and professional experiences. Learn more at 


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