Project Overview

Map Front
Map Back


In October 2000, Openlands convened a conference to address natural resource protection in the tri-state region (northeastern Illinois, northwestern Indiana, and southeastern Wisconsin). The conference’s objectives were to identify the green infrastructure that connects the three states, assess the threats to these resources and the status of efforts to protect them, and define an agenda for the future. In preparing for the conference, Openlands was unable to locate a map of the three-state region that showed its green infrastructure. Moreover, Openlands found that most available information about the extent, nature, and health of the region’s green infrastructure stops at the county or state border.

Conference participants identified obstacles to protecting natural resources that cross state lines and strategies for overcoming them. The conference attendees agreed that lack of information about natural resources across jurisdictional lines was a major obstacle to cooperative efforts to protect the resources. For example, naturalists in the Chicago Wilderness region seeking to assess the amount and quality of habitat for grassland birds know that vegetation and land use data are inconsistent from county to county, much less state to state. Lack of information about wetlands in Wisconsin initially hindered efforts by the Liberty Prairie Conservancy to increase flood absorption capacity along the Des Plaines River. Everyone at the October 2000 conference agreed that one of the most important ways to help interstate and regional conservation efforts would be to create a map and regional database that provide foundational information on green infrastructure across the three-state region.

At the same time, CNT was developing a state-of-the-art geographic information and analysis division, mostly focused on transportation, energy, and housing. The Geographic Research and Information Division (GRID), as it came to be called, is the largest public interest geographic information system (GIS) group in the Midwest and has been integral to advancing CNT’s mission. The intellectual and analytical capacity of GRID made possible both the groundbreaking analysis CNT performed to establish the Location Efficient Mortgage (LEM) and the analysis of the electricity market that resulted in the development of the Community Energy Cooperative. The foundation of CNT’s geographic analysis is a strong commitment to open access to data and information.

In 2002, CNT and Openlands formed a partnership to address the need for better information about the green infrastructure in the 14-county region.

Project Development

CNT and Openlands identified five teams of “green infrastructure experts” in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana to provide technical advice and overall guidance for the project. We also convened an informal group of advisors selected from interested groups in other parts of the larger Great Lakes region that either have implemented similar mapping projects on a smaller scale or were interested in replicating this project.

Database Content

We compiled the best available data in the region, collecting data from more than 60 local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private land trusts and conservation groups. Collectively, the green infrastructure detailed on the map represents more than 175 layers of data. Because different agencies collect their data at different scales and projection levels, we had to normalize all of it to a uniform projection and scale—a task that had never been done before. The layers include publicly owned lands, existing and proposed greenways, waterways, trails, and other natural areas and open spaces. Selected highways, towns, and state and county borders are also included for reference purposes. A data matrix can be found here.

Geographic Scope

The database covers 14 counties extending out from the greater Chicago region, including the counties bordering the Wisconsin-Illinois and Illinois-Indiana state lines. These 14 counties were chosen for several reasons:


Our development of the region’s first comprehensive database of green infrastructure enabled us to create these products (all of which are available for viewing and downloading on this site):

Next Steps

We are seeking the advice of our network of partner organizations to help us move “Natural Connections: Green Infrastructure in Wisconsin, Illinois & Indiana” to the next stage. Some ideas include: