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Jeff Manes: Bisacchi is the authority on LaSalle Fish and Wildlife

Ken Bisacchi 61 has managed LaSalle Fish Wildlife Arefor 20 years.  |  Phoprovided

Ken Bisacchi, 61, has managed the LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area for 20 years. | Photo provided

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AT A GLANCE

What: LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area

Where: 4752 W. County Road 1050N, Lake Village

More information: Call 992-3019

Updated: January 24, 2013 6:12AM



“... Swollen by an infinite number of brooks which rise in the swamps they traverse. From there, it passes through 40 leagues of woods which are almost always flooded. The land is excellent and seems only waiting cultivation.

“There are wild apple trees as in France and walnut trees also. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries are common there. All this part is filled with beavers which feed on this kind, and are difficult to kill because everything is under water. All these things are found throughout the country we have traversed and are to be found from the source of the river of the Illinois which the Indians call Theakiki.”

— Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle,
describing the Grand
Kankakee Marsh in 1683

Except for a straightened Kankakee River, almost 3,800 acres in Lake Village still look like the landscape La Salle described. It is aptly named the LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area.

Ken Bisacchi manages the place and lives a bobcat’s leap from the check-in station. Yes, bobcats have been seen at LFWA. Badgers, too.

Bisacchi, 61, has been married to Marti nearly 40 years; they have raised two adult children. Ken and Marti also are the grandparents of Taylor Bisacchi, a standout distance runner for Valparaiso High School.

***

“I grew up in Logansport,” Bisacchi began.

Were you a Berry?

“Yep, a Logansport Berry. Our mascot was Felix the Cat. There were about 15,000 people living in Logansport when I was a kid. Every family but one on our street was of Italian descent.”

Did you like to hunt as a kid?

“Oh, yeah. I hunted rabbits along the Wabash River.”

Fishing?

“Luckily, the Wabash and Eel River merge in downtown Logansport. The Eel was really good for smallmouth (bass.) The Wabash was good for catfish.”

College?

“Purdue University in West Lafayette. I have a degree in wildlife science.”

First job after graduating?

“In the spring of 1974, I was lucky enough to get a job as a foreman on a game farm. I raised pheasants for the put-take program. I worked my way up to assistant manager and was able to transfer to Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.”

Then what?

“In December of ’88, I became manager at Hovey Lake.”

Where’s that?

“As far southwest as you can go in Indiana. We had to go north to get to Kentucky. Hovey Lake is near the confluence of the Ohio River and Wabash River. It was a major waterfowl property.”

Ken, you’ve managed here at LFWA for 20 years, are there as many ducks on the property as there were when you started?

“We don’t hold as many ducks as we used to. We don’t seem to get the flyway coming through here.”

That goes back to when they drained the Grand Kankakee Marsh more than a century ago. Before that, it was said the waterfowl were so thick they blackened the sky.

“True, but more recently, it’s the changes in farming. The farmers have gone to no-till. It used to be everybody plowed, so the ducks were pretty much forced to feed on our property.

“Another thing is the milder weather. The ducks seem to hold up north longer. When they do come, it’s usually a big push and it’s over; we don’t get new ducks every week or two. In Illinois, you have the warm-water areas that stay open because of the power plants.”

Other changes in the past 20 years?

“It’s easy to see a big change in the river, now that the sand and silt have filled into the bayous. When I first came here, the river would come up and go down a lot quicker. Now, when it comes up, it can stay up for three months in the spring.”

Those bayous are where the fish spawn and lay their eggs.

“That’s right.”

Have you ever seen the Kankakee River this low at this time of year?

“I’ve never seen it this low. Garth Reed retired from here about a year ago with nearly 40 years service; he said it was very, very low in ’88.”

That was a bad drought year. Ken, let’s slightly switch gears. When I was a kid, this place was a state park. Area 2 literally butted up against my parents’ backyard.

“The land was originally acquired in 1952 as Kankakee River State Park. It’s kind of confusing; people still refer to the area across U.S. 41 from Sumava Resorts as the entrance to ‘the park.’ ”

I remember when there were picnic tables and barbecue pits there.

“Since the acquisition of the Baker Ranch and this 1,000 acres in 1963, we’ve been strictly a fish and wildlife area. It was decided that it was larger than they really wanted to manage as a park, and they already had Tippecanoe River State Park. So, the Fish and Wildlife Division took it over.”

Ken, when I was about 12, I saw a badger about a quarter-mile south of where we’re sitting. I’ve never seen one since. I ran home and told my dad. He told me I must have seen a woodchuck or a raccoon. But I know what I saw.

“I saw one in my yard about 10 or 12 years ago. Your dad had one by his place last year.”

Really? He didn’t tell me that. The old man probably saw a woodchuck or a raccoon.

“I had to take a badger out of a trapper’s trap in the late ’70s with a dog snare.”

You’re a brave soul.

“The guy took the trap off the badger’s leg, and I released the animal from the snare into a brush pile, then headed back to my pickup. I looked back and the badger was coming right toward me.”

What next?

“I ended up in the bed of that truck in hurry. For the most part, badgers try to avoid people; that’s why we don’t see them very often. They’re very reclusive.”

I was the guy who filmed those pelicans in Black Oak Bayou for our documentary film, “Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.”

“Those pelicans have been stopping by every spring for the past four or five years.”

Ken, I haven’t hunted or trapped since the ’70s, but I still like to fish. There are certain sections of the river during hunting season when anglers aren’t allowed to fish — a safety precaution, I’m sure.

“Once the waterfowl season starts, the property shuts down to fishing. We’re a multiple-use area with a lot of hunting groups, but fishermen basically have it nine months of the year. Waterfowl hunting and fishing just don’t go together.”

Is it legal to hunt squirrels from a boat?

“As long as you’re not moving. It can be a common practice to float the river and hunt squirrels. Have you ever heard of an outdoor writer called Bayou Bill from around Spencer? He used to write about fishing and squirrel hunting at the same time.”

Black squirrels?

“We have them now. I know of a few that have been harvested on the north side of the river in Areas 9 and 10.”

Additional opportunities?

“Wetland trapping is available through a drawing in October. We provide a dog-training area near the headquarters. Hunting opportunities for the disabled are available. There are four boat launches, two accessing the Kankakee River. Berries, mushrooms and nuts can be gathered from the property.

***

Most revenues used in land acquisition, development, operation and maintenance of LaSalle Fish and Wildlife Area are derived from the sale of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses.

Bisacchi told me one thing he’d like to see in his lifetime is a national fish and wildlife refuge along the Kankakee River.



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