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Safe and Responsible Paddling in Illinois

Paddling safely, and staying within the bounds of Illinois water laws, can be a sticky proposition at best. Most people would think that in a state such as ours, one that has more flowing water than most, we should have plenty of paddling opportunities. Unfortunately for those who like to recreate, the large majority of the water in the land of Lincoln is privately owned.

By law, one would be trespassing should they try to paddle a “non navigable waterway” without written permission from every landowner along the reach that the person wished to paddle. Our waters are located largely in rural agricultural settings. Livestock fencing, culverts, and irrigation machinery are likely to be encountered. A stream paddled cleanly one day could have an electrified fence stretched across it legally the very next, and become a real hazard. These areas are almost all used for hunting, in a lot of cases paid hunting. This time of year is turkey season throughout the state. Most turkey hunters who have accidently shot someone, first saw a patch of blue or red briefly before they took the shot. These are the same colors as a wild turkey’s head. I, for one, wear a red lifejacket, and therefor don’t tempt fate. It’s a sad fact that simply being on some of our most well-known streams, the Mackinaw, Big Bureau Creek, etc., without written permission could lead to an arrest, or even worse, an unwanted accident. Bottom line, be responsible and get permission before paddling through private land.

We have a number of “public” waterways and lakes that allow us the legal right to paddle. Comprising less than 10% of all of Illinois water, these “navigable” steams and lakes offer many opportunities for adventure and recreation, but also come with some caveats. Unfortunately, the land along most of these waters is still privately owned. We can enter to, and egress from, a public waterway if the land is publicly owned and meant for that purpose, or if the paddler has permission from the landowner to be there.

See the map here for a list of Illinois Navigable Waterways and you’ll most likely find a nice paddling destination close to home.

Remember, ALWAYS where your lifejacket CORRECTLY, and have a safe paddle!

Scott Hewitt

IPC Director of Education


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