Salt Creek Greenway Association

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History of Salt Creek


Photo Dave Waycie

Long ago, as the last Ice Age began to recede, the landscape features of northeastern Illinois emerged from the meltwaters. Salt Creek owes its origins to that geological period of time some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Originally known as The Little DesPlaines, it was undoubtedly used as a transportation route for countless centuries by Native American peoples and later by fur traders and voyageurs. The canoes chiseled from felled logs by long ago travelers could easily pass above the creek's shallow waters or be portaged from place to place when the creek became impassable during dry seasons.

The name change occurred in 1834 when John Reid was hauling supplies between Galena and Chicago. He wagon got stuck mid-way in the creek while crossing. As he tried to unload his goods to save them from capsizing with the wagon, a barrel or two of salt dissolved into briny foam. Ever after, the stream became known as Salt Creek.

The headwaters to Salt Creek originate at the Busse Woods Forest Preserve in Schaumburg. Salt Creek reaches its confluence with the DesPlaines River in Riverside. From there, the DesPlaines River connects to the Illinois River which flows into the Mississippi River, eventually draining into the Gulf of Mexico. The Salt Creek watershed is an integral part of the historic waterways of Illinois.

From the 1600's to 1833, Potawatomi people lived in the Chicago area. The Village of Sauganakka ( present-day Oak Brook) was the largest Indian Village in DuPage County. Indian dwellings were built along the banks of Salt Creek north of today's Graue Mill parking lot. These early dwellers of the area relied upon the creek for fishing, transportation and drinking water and the forested wilderness beyond its shores for small game, white-tail deer, nuts, medicinal plants and forage. Today, the 30 mile length of Salt Creek is noted for its diverse recreational land and water trails, scenic beauty, historic sites, natural areas, wildlife and open space. The Salt Creek at the Graue Mill and Dam area is one of the most visited places in DuPage County, drawing 100,000 people annually.

For the past several decades, Salt Creek has been impacted by pollution, overdevelopment and periodic runoff during storm events and floods. But water quality is improving. Once again, people can fish and canoe the creek in summer and enjoy winter sports on its frozen waters. Hiking the nature trails along Salt Creek is a popular pastime in all seasons.

Salt Creek is a truly remarkable waterway connecting Cook and DuPage Counties, municipalities, park districts, historical sites and tourism destinations along its meandering length. Scenic views can be seen from bridges and roadways while driving past, revealing a respite of greenery and flowing waters in the midst of suburban development. These views invite passersby to personally experience Salt Creek and all it has to offer at a more leisurely pace and time.

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