Home » Illinois Paddling Council Blog » Dam Removal on the Lower Des Plaines – A History

Dam Removal on the Lower Des Plaines – A History

By Don Mueggenborg

Lower Des Plaines

Thinking about Wally (story on my bucket list) brought back some memories.

The Des Plaines is – or is on its way – to being dam free. Story about the removal of the first two dams on the lower Des Plaines.

Dam in Lemont. I have seen pictures of people paddling and swimming above a dam in Lemont. Just before WW II, they wanted to put a pipeline across the river someplace above the dam. There were objections and an injunction was issued, but could not be served on a Sunday. The dam was removed with the idea that it would be rebuilt by the WPA or CCC (depression-era government employment programs).

However, the timing was bad. WW II started, WPA and CCC were ended, and the dam never was rebuilt.

Dam in Lockport. Two men drowned while paddling downstream of 135th Street. They were found below the dam in Lockport. The dam was owned by Material Service and, of course, a lawsuit was filed.

Enter Wally and his friends. They were in the area, coming up to paddle from the Peoria area. When they got to the dam, they were stopped by a security guard and sheriff’s police and told to paddle back upstream. If they got out of their canoes, they would be trespassing. Finally they were escorted off the property.

Wally called Ralph Frese who asked me to paddle with him and some lawyers to look over the site.

The lawyers asked if I would be an expert witness and would I say that they drowned going over the unmarked dam. When I said “probably” drowned going over the dam, they did not call me.

Later I met with people from Material Service who said they would remove the dam when the lawsuit was dropped.   They cleared a place to portage the dam more easily after the meeting.

Eventually the lawsuit was dropped and the dam removed. However, the easy takeout below the dam was suddenly off limits, as the Sanitary district put up “no parking” signs.

The effect of the dam removal. Faster water upstream and more water below the dam at “fishnet rapids.” It made it a better place to paddle, but the “no parking” signs made it a longer trip. Takeout at Lockport Prairie Forest Preserve or in Joliet.

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