John Madsen ROCK ISLAND, ILLINOIS
In 1985, just outside Victoria Falls, Illinois, 20 friends purchased 389 acres of strip mine spoils, "an utter wasteland," as John Madsen remembers it. Twenty years, 3,500 hardwood saplings, 90 nesting sites, and thousands of fish fry later, they have rebuilt an ecosystem. With rented bulldozers, Madsen and his partners level hashed earth into wide, shallow indentations that fill with rain to become wetlands. In waders, they anchor homemade platforms for migratory waterfowl, and tend to minnow breeding ponds. On dry land, they build brushpiles for quail and plant autumn olive for turkeys. "Every time we come to hunt or fish," says Madsen, "we put in some hard labor." Last spring, he counted 23 Canada goslings in just one small pond. "The land has become a haven."