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Category: Access and Water Trails Development

A Jewel on the south side has finally been discovered

By Michael Taylor

No motor boats, no barges, and deep enough not to scratch the bottom of your boat.  Finally the secret of a beautiful flowing river in the southern suburbs of Chicago has been rediscovered.  In the fall of 2015, the Cook County Forest Preserve opened a new boat ramp along the Little Calumet River at the Kickapoo Woods Forest Preserves.  The immediate feedback from paddlers and novice alike was that it is a perfect venue.  Kickapoo Woods offers plenty of parking in a safe, well-lit area for paddlers to enjoy.  Not only does the new launch site offer easy, safe access to the river, but the location along the shallow portion of the Upper Little Calumet River makes it a perfect place for beginner and intermediate paddlers.  Meander is the perfect verb and noun describing the paddling experience on this section of the river.  The river bends and curves, and on most days, the river’s flow is calm enough to offer a gentle riding experience in the great outdoors.

Join the coalition of outdoor enthusiasts and community organizations in not only a river clean up, but an introduction to both canoeing and kayaking on this gem in the southern suburbs. Saturday morning, June 4 2016, is the day of the “Little Calumet River Day at Kickapoo Woods;” please join us on exploring this secret south side treasure.

Canoes and Candlelight

sangamonOctober 3, 2015

Petersburg, IL

Join the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association for the Sangamon River Fall Foliage Float & Candlelight Tour of Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site.

Paddlers will enjoy a short, leisurely float down the Sangamon River to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site where the fall colors, quiet vistas, and shadows of the past signal the changing seasons. Joining you along your journey on Lincoln’s river will be staff from the Illinois State Museum and Dickson Mounds State Museum, who will provide unique perspectives on the history of the river and where evidence of creatures and cultures may yet remain hidden not so far below the river’s reach.

Once off the water, you will be greeted by a bonfire, wiener-roast, and traditional tastes of autumn. Here, stories of legends and lore will spin back to life among the swirling smoke and rustling leaves. And, in Illinois’ early prairie pioneering years, there was no greater mysterious and unexplained myth than that of the Legend of the Piasa ~ Storm Bird, that is said to lurk both below water’s edge and above in the dark expanses of starless skies.

As dusk approaches you will leave the riverside area and head to the New Salem Visitor’s Center where the Candlelight Tour begins at 7:00pm and continues to 9:00pm.

The Tour offers the only opportunity to see the village at night. Staff and volunteers in period clothing will be inside many of the log homes and shops in the village to talk about life in 19th century Illinois. Gingerbread and cider will be served in the Rutledge Tavern. The Candlelight tour is also offered Friday the 2nd and Sunday, October 4th.


From the President’s Desk Year In Review and Looking Forward



Wow, Has it been a year already? At the beginning of the year I discussed the following five priorities for the IPC, coming from last year’s paddlers’ survey


  • Development of Water Trails and Access Points.
  • Advocacy
  • Safety and Education
  • Stewardship
  • Our Web Page and Online Presence


So how have we done? Some Highlights of the year




I would like to think that we are heading in the right direction, but still have a lot to do! Should anyone want to take a more active role in the IPC, I would welcome the increased participation. There are a number of board positions available. Please feel free to contact me so we can discuss how to get involved.




Tom Eckels,

President, Illinois Paddling Council

Program Manager, Illinois Water TrailKeepers




New Launch Site on Little Calumet River

The little calumet river enters Illinois from North West Indiana and flows through the south and south-west suburbs into the Cal-Sag Channel and eventually into Lake Michigan. A full description of the river can be found on the OpenLands Web Site: http://www.openlands.org/calumet-area-water-trails


On September 26, the Forest Preserves if Cook County commemorated the grand opening of a new Launch Site at Kickapoo Woods by inviting the community out for free canoe rides. Over forty people enjoyed their first canoe trip.


Kickapoo woods is located off of Halstead, Between 147th and 144th in Riverdale IL. Park opposite of the model airplane flying field. There is a short carry to the river.  https://goo.gl/maps/euQVnQNuzv82


The Wonderful Variety of Paddlesport

paddlesport 3By Sigrid Pilgrim

No other sport offers so many varieties on the same theme as paddlesport. Paddling, for many people, is CANOEING – you sit in a canoe, look straight ahead, paddle from point A to B. If you are a novice, your arms will feel like a ton in 20 minutes. Or, for the more adventuresome, there is WHITEWATER in which a bunch of crazy lunatics risk their life hanging upside down in kayaks in rapids no sane person would want to be in!

There is truth in both statements, but there is so much more! No other sport offers so many different options of craft, places to take it and activities. But there is even more – namely, the realization that paddlesport offers a unique opportunity towards educational enrichment.

CANOEING – You can take a canoe on a local river for a leisurely trip, to go fishing, or to just enjoy the natural environment. Of course, you can also use the same canoe to help clean up the trash along a river bank, or to give a youngster a first taste of outdoor “adventure.” You can use your canoe as a means of transportation to get to places otherwise inaccessible and take it CANOE TRIPPING into the wilderness for a week or more of camping along the shores of lakes or rivers.

Change the dimensions of the canoe; make it narrower and longer, put some power drink in a backpack and you can start competing in MARATHON races, from 10 to 100 and more miles, depending on your stamina. Or change the dimensions even more, until the canoe looks more like an arrow, and you’re ready to SPRINT – an Olympic discipline for many decades.

paddlesport 2If you don’t like to paddle by yourself, make the canoe bigger and put more seats into it, and you’ve got a long boat. There is power in numbers – and 15 to 20 or more people paddling in unison can make even a 30 foot boat fly! You can now recreate history in a VOYAGEUR CANOE or experience culture from faraway places in a CHINESE DRAGON BOAT. The voyageurs played a very important role in the development of the North American Continent, and various RENDEZVOUS throughout the region annually recreate these historical moments. Garbed in traditional voyageur clothing, singing French-inspired songs, paddlesport is a way to honor the past.

KAYAKING – Do you want to give the double-blade a try? There are many choices, too – touring or sea kayaks, white water or sprint boats, and too often, the short and wide rec boats – it’s all a matter of personal preference. SEA or TOURING KAYAKS can hold a great deal of gear. They are designed to track well in wind and thus are ideal for open bodies of water, for exploring sea caves in Lake Superior, or, as many members of local sea kayak clubs prove regularly, just to get out on Lake Michigan and paddle for a few hours! Your choice in sea kayaks is as large as in canoes – from traditional Eskimo style skin and frame boats, to the high tech Kevlar and carbon fiber lay-ups – each offers features not found in the other – so try as many as you can until you find the one that’s right for you and your budget.

paddlesport 4

You say, the sea kayak didn’t turn fast enough! Try a WHITEWATER KAYAK instead which is designed to pivot on a dime for the quick maneuvers necessary in rapids. You say they don’t go fast enough! Then challenge yourself in either a downriver racing or flat-water sprint kayak, either will surely increase your sense of balance if you give the boats a chance!

KAYAKS too are versatile: for the top athletes, Olympic participation is the ultimate reward. For the adventurer, there may be a first descent in spectacular surroundings; or for the nature lover, a weekend get-away in Wisconsin. Several times I have seen a bald eagle swoop just 10-15 feet ahead of me. But equally important, there is also the camaraderie with friends who enjoy all with equal intensity.

And if you don’t like sitting in a canoe or kayak – try the latest iteration of paddling – the STAND-UP-PADDLEBOARD; whether to get a good core workout, or to develop your balance in SUP Yoga, it is one more variety on the paddling theme.

If you think we have covered it all – here is more. Paddlesport is not only for the able bodied person, but for PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES as well. Just think about it: once in a boat, you really do not need your legs very much – so a person with a lower limb disability can enjoy the same freedom of movement as you and I. There are ALSO paddling clubs whose members are breast cancer survivors and found that paddling together provides not only physical but emotional benefits as well.

Is paddling only for the young? Of course not – it’s a LIFETIME ACTIVITY – I’ve seen kids as young as five in a solo kayak, or infants with parents in a canoe (be sure you have good paddling skills if you bring the baby!). I also know plenty of paddler grandparents, this author included.

But there is one more aspect of paddlesport which I believe has not been exploited as much as it should: paddling as a catalyst for a more integrated approach towards OUTDOOR EDUCATION with a focus on our natural environment. I fear we are raising a generation of very computer-literate youngsters, to whom nature is a virtual reality, on-screen/DVD experience and playgrounds are carefully controlled aseptic indoor environments!

A paddling trip is unlike any other outdoor activity: it is not a setting prescribed by humans like a playground. There is no paved hiking path leading from parking lot to picnic site. There could be a natural obstacle, like a downed tree, or icky stuff like mud, worms or mosquitoes. Maybe the youngsters will see death, a fish floating belly up or a bird tangled in a fishing line whose lure still hangs glittering from a branch. Or they’ll see shopping carts, tires, and picnic tables in the water.

But chances are they can also see a deer, muskrat, beaver dams, and herons, catch their own first fish and learn to appreciate the beauty of nature, and hopefully, will want to protect this environment. As I used to tell my students – you won’t protect what you don’t love, and you cannot love what you don’t know – so get to know the beauty of nature through paddling.

For more information on paddlesport, clubs, where to get paddling instruction, and links to other paddling related resources, go to www.illinoispaddling.org



Rolling on the River

rolling on river 3
Photo courtesy of College of DuPage

(The paddling event to honor military veterans)

After a postponement in May due to adverse weather, thirty-five paddlers participated in the rescheduled Rolling on the River event on the Fox River, August 22, 2015.

The event began at Hudson Crossing Park in Oswego, where Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps cadets presented the Colors and the National Anthem was sung. Following the usual acknowledgements and safety topics, vets and volunteers launched onto the Fox River for a leisurely paddle down to Yorkville.

Upon arriving in Yorkville, veterans and volunteers alike were treated to a picnic lunch of Angus burgers, fresh sweet corn, and all the side dishes, prepared by Greg Vana and Jeff Cox (who also volunteered their services to honor military veterans). Lunch was served under the pavilion at Riverside Park (by the Marge Cline Whitewater Park), where everyone enjoyed great conversation and watched a few canoeists and kayakers playing in the whitewater.

After lunch, seven paddlers decided to brave the whitewater. Following a short safety presentation, they were matched up with experienced whitewater paddlers and paddled tandem down the chute. The grins on their faces told the story.

All too soon the day was over. Everyone – veteran and volunteer alike – stated that they had had a great time and that they looked forward to doing it again next year.

Photo courtesy of College of DuPage
Photo courtesy of College of DuPage Photos courtesy of College of DuPage

Banner Marsh Water Trail Project

Banner Marsh Water Trail Project

by Jeff Fitch7135278z(1)

Exciting things are happening in Central Illinois! A new water trail project has been in the making over the last year and the signs should be installed in the first loop of the 4 planned loops very soon known as the Wheel Lake loop. These “Loop Trails” will not require car shifts as you end up where you started!  I targeted only one trail per year but if time permits I will attempt to install the second loop trail signs this fall on Johnson lake. If not, they will be in place by spring of 2016.


The SFWA embraced the water trail idea when I presented it to them and they gave me permission to lay out the first water trail this area has ever seen! Banner has 4 main lakes and I am beginning with the northernmost lake, Wheel Lake. 350 acres at normal pool this lake has islands and many  interesting coves to explore. This 4 mile loop has 100’s of options to deviate off of the trail but be aware of your surroundings as all lakes at Banner are very maze like. You could easily triple the loop mileage if you explored the whole shoreline. For deeper exploration, a nice hand held GPS is suggested.

Wheel Lake LoopJohnson Lake Loop

Johnson Lake loop is a larger loop at a tentative 7.7 miles. This may change12004829_903718459706277_1201241421170180708_n as most of my energy has been spent on the Wheel lake layout and the final route may change at Johnson. Johnson lake is the largest lake at Banner with 600 acres of water at normal pool. The loop trail here also offers 100’s of options off of the trail to explore. GPS again is suggested.
This excerpt is taken from the DNR web page:

“Banner Marsh State Fish & Wildlife Area is located approximately 25 miles southwest of Peoria on U.S. Route 24 and is protected from the Illinois River by a major levee. Teeming with fish and wildlife, Banner Marsh provides various outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing, boating, dog training, picnicking, wildlife observation and photography. Three public access areas lead into Banner Marsh, all of which have parking lots, boat ramps, restrooms and picnic areas. The only type of camping allowed at Banner Marsh is youth group camping. Nearby Rice Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area has camping facilities available.



Prior to the Department of Natural Resources purchasing tracts of land bordering the Illinois River in Fulton and Peoria counties during the 1980s, the area was used for agricultural purposes and surfaced mined for coal.


Today, Banner Marsh State Fish & Wildlife Area serves as a 4,363-acre freshwater marsh. More than 200-plus water bodies, and its vast acres of grassland and shrub land habitats provide excellent habitat for migrating and local waterfowl, numerous species of game fish and other wildlife, while providing opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts.”


Come explore Banner and paddle this beautiful lake system. Be mindful of waterfowl season October 17th-Jan31 as no boat traffic is permitted at that time. Call  the Rice lake office as it is the office that governs both Rice lake and Banner Marsh. 309-647-9184 . Please  remember that we are only one spoke in the wheel at Banner so please respect others, obey the closure times during hunting season and never intentionally interfere with the wildlife as we are in their world out here.



MFork1It took a dedicated group of people 22 years to prevent a dam from flooding this scenic river in

Central Illinois – Gateway to North America’s Grand Prairie

Read Dr. Clark Bullard’s article on HOW THE MIDDLEFORK GOT ITS NAME

In 1836 the Illinois country was the frontier, and many forts and outposts were vying for the role of “Gateway to the West.” One competitor was Amando D. Higgins, a real estate developer from New York who traveled up the Wabash and followed the Vermilion River into the Illinois country. West of Danville, he followed the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River into the Grand Prairie. Stopping at a point where the river was more than 150 feet wide and still navigable to steamers, and ample firewood was available, he founded Higginsville — the Gateway to the West — and advertised lots for sale in the New York papers. His 1837 plats show he named the town “Vermilion Rapids,” for the barrier that marked the end of the navigable part of the river.

According to The History of Vermilion County (1879), Higgins had great plans for his town, “where boats could take on products of the rich farming lands for miles around… Direct communication would be kept up all year with New Orleans, Rio, Cuba and Europe…” Unfortunately the draining of the prairie wetlands caused all rivers in Illinois to shrink substantially during summer months, after carrying off the spring rains in raging torrents. Many mills went bankrupt and had to move to larger rivers.

Higginsville today consists of only a few houses and a cemetery. It is better known as the most popular put-in point for canoeists enjoying Illinois’ only National Scenic River. Permanently protected since 1989 by the state and federal governments, this 17-mile segment of the MiddleFork and its 8,000 acres of adjoining public parks and wildlife areas is a truly unique recreational and ecological resource.

National Scenic River designation followed a bitter 22-year battle over a proposal to drown the river and its valley under a proposed “MiddleFork Reservoir.” By blurring the words together, dam boosters attempted to deprive the MiddleFork of its identity as a river. The semantic conflict was a subtle yet powerful dimension of the political debate.

That struggle is behind us now, and Illinois has a National Scenic River protected by state and federal law and National Park Service regulations. The future generations who enjoy the river will know it by its proper name: The MiddleFork of the Vermilion — Gateway to North America’s Grand Prairie. Another place claimed the honor of being gateway to the West.

More details on the history here: http://prairierivers.org/MiddleFork/MiddleFork/MiddleFork/Home.html

And photos from a trip on the MiddleFork by Voytek Miezal.



Plum River Report

By Joe Ginger


On July 29 and lasting until July 31st, the Plum River in Savanna, Illinois, will benefit from the efforts of individuals with the goals of making a navigable stream completely open for paddling, fishing, and wildlife interests, in short, creating a recreational destination for area residents and tourists. When completed, the Plum River will present 9.7 miles of paddling which uniquely requires only a two mile car shuttle. The stream is currently blocked by at least four known logjams. This problem will be addressed by a plan to manage timber stands along the river. The project combines three day community work and concurrent with one week AmeriCorps team work.

One of the significant features of the project is the resources deployed in the effort. The list includes, Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District, Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, Savanna, Mt. Carroll and AmeriCorps Team, area contractors, residents, and local landowners. Volunteers and donations are welcome. For more information on efforts to connect scenic Old Mill Park to the Mississippi, and later from Mt. Carroll to Spring Lake to Thomson, check it out at:



2015 Abe’s River Race

The Sangamon River was a great place to be on May 23, 2015, for the third annual Abe’s River Race, hosted by the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association (LHWTA).  The race and post-celebration were capped by Representative Tim Butler’s presentation of Illinois House Resolution 493 to LHWTA.  The Resolution recognizes and celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail.

Check out this article in The State Journal Register highlighting the race: