Rob Carmichael, director of the Lake Forest Wildlife Discovery Center, said the 82 snakes were found hibernating underneath old tracks near the decommissioned Zion nuclear power plant and were removed before work crews came in to repair the tracks, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday.
Carmichael said the snakes, which were discovered by a high school teacher in December, would have been exposed to freezing temperatures and possible death if they had not been removed before the scheduled repair work.
The reptiles were kept in a donated wine chiller at the Lake Forest Wildlife Discovery Center for the duration of the winter and are now being released into a newly created habitat at Illinois Beach State Park.
"We hope these snakes will recognize this as their new home," Carmichael said.
He said the snakes were outfitted with microchips so researchers can track their movements.
Carmichael said officials wanted to rescue the animals due to the dwindling snake population in the Chicago area.