The Calumet Stewardship Initiative was created as an umbrella organization to coordinate the efforts of member not-for-profit organizations in environmental preservation and improvement of the bi-state "Illiana" area. In 2001, in the wake of more than two decades of industrial decline and decay, with funding for the effort provided by Chicago Wilderness via the Illinois Conservation Foundation, Chicago Department of Environment and fellow service providers, such as Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Chicago Park District, Forest Preserve District of Cook County—among others—formed the "Calumet Initiative" to better coordinate their education and stewardship programs in the nearly 5,000 acres (20 km2) of open space in the Calumet region of Chicago and northwest Indiana.
Formed by the Calumet River watershed, the Calumet Region embraces the southeast metropolitan Chicago area and northwest Indiana (including the cities of Gary, East Chicago, Hammond, Whiting, Crown Point and Valparaiso, among other communities). Long before European influence was first felt in the Western Hemisphere, the Calumet Region was a site of natural abundance. Although it appears that Indian tribes "had no permanent homes in the region, they did prize the area as a rich source of furs, fish, and various kinds of wild berries, the Potawatomi, in particular, regarded the region as one of their favorite hunting grounds.", and early French influence upheld the value of the region as a source of furs.
During the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century, numerous manufacturing and refining companies grew to prominence in the Calumet region. For more than a century, the Calumet was "one of the most heavily industrialized centers of the United States." The Calumet Stewardship Initiative was formed to improve the efficiency of various civic, cultural and environmental not-for-profit organizations working to remediate the negative effects of industrialization on the region. While civic organizations work to re-establish a viable economy in the area, local historians are creating a virtual steel museum from photographic artifacts. The legacy of industrialization includes company towns, urban communities and remnants of manufacturing sites, as well as on-going health concerns.