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Grand Kankakee Marsh is focus of teen’s  project for National History Day competition

Jeffrey Kroll (right) with his father Jerry.

Jeffrey Kroll (right) with his father, Jerry.

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Updated: February 6, 2014 6:21AM



“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

— Aldo Leopold

“Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness.’”

— Luther Standing Bear

Through the grapevine, I heard that Jeffrey Kroll has an interest in the history of the Grand Kankakee Marsh. When I contacted the young man about interviewing him for my column he said that would be fine, but also wanted to interview me for a project he’s involved with in school.

We struck a deal.

Kroll, 14, lives in Highland with his parents, Jerry and Nadine Kroll. He attends Highland Christian School. Our interviews took place at the Highland Branch of the Lake County Library.

***

There is a man from my hometown of Lake Village by the name of Hans Kroll. Any relation?

“Not that I know of; most of my relatives are from South Dakota and Minnesota,” he said

Next year, when it’s time for high school, where will you go?

“Illiana Christian.”

You have an interest in nature.

“Yes, we go camping a lot. I like being outdoors.”

What are your favorite subjects in school?

“Probably history and science.”

You’re interested in the history of the Kankakee River and the vast wetlands that once surrounded it.

“Yes, my history teacher, Mr. Vander Woude, told me about the topic. I started looking into it. In class, Mr. Vander Woude showed the movie ‘Everglades of the North: The Story of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.’ As we looked deeper into it, we realized there was a lot more history behind it than we originally thought there was.

“I’ve watched the film many times since and find it very interesting. My dad hunts at Willow Slough and LaSalle Fish & Wildlife, but really didn’t know about the history of the Kankakee River.”

You’re involved in a project called National History Day.

“Yes, it begins in late February. This year’s theme is Rights and Responsibility in History. We have to relate the project into that theme. We’re trying to focus on environmental rights.”

Is National History Day just for eighth-grade students?

“No, there are junior and senior divisions. There’s a youth division, too. I’m in the junior division. This is my third year of being involved in National History Day.

“Everybody has the same theme. Every state does it. Each state is divided into regions. We go to South Bend for regional competition. Then, the winners at the regional competitions will go to state competition in Indianapolis. Whoever comes in first or second place at state gets to go to national competition.”

Awesome.

“There are different categories, too. There’s documentary film, historical paper, performance, website... . I’m doing documentary film.”

When did you begin delving into this project?

“I started looking for a topic over the summer. At the beginning of the school year, I looked into several different topics and decided to choose the history of the Grand Kankakee Marsh.”

What is the length of your film?

“There is a time limit of 10 minutes. As of now, my script is about five pages. I’m trying to relate it to environmental rights. The way I see it, by destroying the Grand Kankakee Marsh, they took the animals’ land away. The Indians were forced out of their land, too. There also were people who made their living by trapping and market hunting.”

Do you ever wish that you could go back in time and see what the Grand Kankakee Marsh looked like 120 years ago?

“Yes, it would be so cool to see. I would’ve liked to have seen Beaver Lake.”

Me too, kid. At seven miles by five miles, it was the largest lake in Indiana before it was drained into the Kankakee River. Beaver Lake was approximately 15 times larger than J.C. Murphey Lake at Willow Slough.

Jeffrey, in your research, what surprised you the most about the Grand Kankakee Marsh?

“That it was there.”

***

I hope Jeffrey Kroll fares well in his National History Day competition. But mostly, I’m pleased the young man has a respect for nature and has taken an interest in the topic of environmental rights.



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