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Illinois Paddling Council’s Position Statement on Public Waterways

As the statewide consortium of paddle enthusiasts and regional paddling organizations, the Illinois Paddling Council (IPC) supports all paddlers in their enjoyment of the rivers and lakes of Illinois, a state which is blessed by more miles of paddleable rivers than any other state.  

To that end, we consistently support efforts by public agencies and others to improve paddle craft access to bodies of water by creating kayak/canoe launches on public properties and support the IDNR’s Boat Access Area Development grant program and other similar programs.  

While the IPC will continue to advance access to Illinois rivers by all, the IPC also recognizes that under current Illinois law, riverfront property owners own the property to the centerline of the river. This means that even when using public access points to enter a river, paddlers often must briefly pass through privately held lands. We greatly appreciate property owners who support the paddling community by granting access – or at least not actively thwarting – the passage of paddle craft through their land. In turn, those who use Illinois rivers need to recognize the privilege they have been granted in passing through private land. Landowners are placing a lot of faith in paddlers by allowing us on their property.  We have a responsibility and obligation to pass peacefully, without trespassing, on private lands and always practice ‘leave no trace,’ whether on private or public land. 

The IPC recognizes that a sometimes-unspoken agreement has existed for quite some time between paddlers and those who own the lands through which paddlers seek to paddle. This agreement is easily shattered by the willful acts of some who abuse the landowner’s faith, as the DuPage issue clearly demonstrates.  

The IPC understands the challenges facing all interested parties involved in the DuPage River situation, including the IDNR, private property owners, local public agencies, local businesses, water enthusiasts, and others. In this case, the IPC clearly recognizes the responsibility water enthusiasts must have when using bodies of water, including but not limited to, the obligation not to litter or improperly dispose of garbage and waste, to refrain from noise pollution associated with loud music, and to limit ingress and egress to public lands only. 

As the DuPage River issue works to its conclusion, which we certainly hope will include keeping this river (and many others) accessible to water enthusiasts, our plea is to the paddling and tubing community not to trespass on private lands and to ‘leave no trace’ as they pass through these private and public lands. We greatly appreciate all riparian landowners who allow us on their property.  Our request to riverfront property owners is that they continue to show their faith in responsible members of the watersport community and continue the practice of looking supportively on those who wish to peacefully and briefly enjoy the resource to which they have been provided access. 

Comments on Illinois Water Plan

By Professor Eric Freyfogle

I would like to offer, in brief form, a legal commentary on the public’s existing rights to make use of Illinois waterways and on the state’s need to do a better job recognizing and respecting these public rights. The first step for the state, as I say below, is to do what it has to my knowledge never done: to undertake a full review of the relevant law to grasp the exact scope of public rights and the very limited ability of the state to constrict those public rights. I write as a long-time Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law who has specialized for decades in property and natural resources law and who has written at length on these subjects, including public rights in waterways. I would be happy to meet with DNR officials or others if it would seem helpful and to offer my legal views at far greater length if there is receptivity to them.

In very brief form, my main conclusions are the following (my legal points, of course, are not here supported):

First, the issue of public rights to use waterways is far more legally complex than commonly understood. Public rights are not simply set by the Illinois definition of navigability, nor are they set by any administrative action of the DNR or other executive body. Public rights emerge out of the interaction of quite a number of bodies of federal and state law. The state law of navigability is one of them, but only one. (The lead rulings here are all well over a century old, and of uncertain strength today.) Federal law plays a role through the public trust doctrine, under which Illinois took title to the lands beneath navigable waters (when it entered the union) subject to the already existing public rights to use them. All such waterways were and remain “forever free” to public use under the original Northwest Ordinance, reenacted as a still- binding federal statute by the first Congress. The federal navigation servitude also comes into play, protecting public rights. And there is more. Illinois like other states has the legal power to expand public access to waterways. It has not done so. It has no power, however, to curtail these public rights to the extent that they are protected by federal law.

Second and related, whether or not DNR or another administrative body designates a waterway or waterway segment as navigable is of no real legal significance. The public holds rights on its own; these rights do not derive from, and are not dependent on, anything that DNR does or does not do. So far as I know, no state law authorizes DNR to expand public rights beyond those guaranteed by federal law. It certainly has no power to curtail federally guaranteed rights. DNR does have certain authority to regulate uses of waters in the public interest, but that authority does not extend to eliminating rights—exactly the evil that the public trust doctrine, the Northwest Ordinance (as re-enacted), and the Navigation Servitude are all intended to forestall. Its power to regulate public property is akin to the rights various public bodies have to regulate uses of private property. DNR does not have the power, through any rulemaking process or otherwise, to decide on its own which waterways will be deemed navigable and which will not..

Third, so far as I know, the state AG has never issued a legal ruling that covers the topic of public rights in anything like its full complexity. The ruling that DNR commonly cites deals with a tangential issue and, as a quick glance at it shows, gives no thought to the bulk of the bodies of relevant law. I attempted to get Mr. Marc Miller, when DNR director, to seek a guiding ruling from the AG’s office, but to no avail. As I told him then, and repeat now, I’m prepared to draft such a legal review if it would be studied seriously by state lawyers in a position to take action.

Finally, it is my view that, in combination, the various sources of federal and state law that protect longstanding public rights to use waterways empower citizens to make use of any waterway that is navigable in fact during any reasonable period of the year. That use includes travel by canoe, a use that was often, when Illinois entered the Union, a commercial use (as well as recreational) and that is a commercial use today given the actions of canoe outfitters and the like. (I don’t mean to suggest that public uses are limited to commercial activities.) Public rights are not dependent on any longstanding public uses of waterways, although such patterns of use can certainly provide evidence of navigability in fact. Public rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, are a form of public property and deserve protection that is just as strong as any protection for private property. Further, any obstruction of a public “highway,” including a navigable waterway, is a per se public nuisance under Illinois law. Under old precedent (the value of which today is unclear), any member of the public can use “self help” to abate a public nuisance, meaning can rip out any barrier that blocks a public route just as a person could remove a barrier to a public road. There is also a right to travel onto private land as minimally needed to avoid waterway obstacles.

It has been my sense over the years that DNR officers (and law enforcement generally) have been far too inclined to resolve all doubts about public rights in favor of private landowners. There is, I believe, no justification for this, in law or policy. Public rights are a form of property and deserve equal protection. There are and will always be uncertainties about which waterways are navigable in fact and thus subject to the public’s property right (easement) to use them. When they arise, such disputes should be handled like all disputes between two parties that claim conflicting property rights: they should be left to the parties to work out as a civil dispute, in court if needed. It is inappropriate for law enforcement officials to take the side of private landowners as they so often have done. It is certainly wrong to arrest a boater when the navigability in fact of a waterway is at all in doubt.

Thanks for taking time to consider my comments. I do hope that this long-delayed and much-needed study of Illinois water law in all its aspects will lead state lawyers, finally, to give the issue of public rights the attention it deserves.

Waterway Management Survey – Please take a few minutes

We need your input! Please complete this short survey to provide insight needed to update A Guide for Multiple-Use Waterway Management, Second Edition published in 2004. The Third Edition update will include a website with a compilation of online resources for managers who are responsible for the wise, safe multiple-use of our rivers, lakes, harbors and coastal waterways. 

A great change seen by waterway managers since the 2004 edition is the growth of multiple forms of recreational boating and competing expectations for use of our nation’s waterways. This survey asks you to identify potential challenges faced by waterway managers including drivers of new uses and activities. Survey responses will ensure the Third Edition of the Guide addresses topics of greatest concern with examples, if available, illustrating management challenges and successes. 

Please take a few minutes to complete this survey to ensure your voice is heard and that the updated Guide becomes a reliable resource for you and your colleagues. The 10-question survey should take fewer than eight minutes to complete. Access the survey at this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WaterwayManagement

Please share this email and survey link with your colleagues and others interested in multiple-use waterway management. The survey will remain open until August 1, 2020. 

The project is funded under a national non-profit grant from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund administered by the United States Coast Guard. The grant was awarded to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators which is providing program oversight. The project is guided by a project steering committee including representatives from a wide range of user groups and management agencies. For a list of steering committee members and for additional information on the project, visit https://www.nasbla.org/nasblamain/advocacy/waterwaymanagement

On behalf of the project team, thank you for your completion of this short survey. 

Dave Brezina 

Secretary, Chicago Harbor Safety Committee

Increasing Diversity in Paddlesport

By Sigrid Pilgrim, Director  

The question has been raised how IPC could support increasing inclusiveness of minorities in the sport. 

I do not have the answer, so I asked Tim Mondl from the Forest Preserves of Cook County to share with you about their paddling programs involving inner city schools and other organizations.  Read his article elsewhere in the newsletter.

In the fourteen years that I organized the Evanston Pool Session for CWA, I cannot remember having had a Black student in the class. In the twelve years I chaired Paddling in the Park, we twice hosted a group of Wards of the State (mostly minorities) to participate in our Kids Paddling Playground sponsored by the Lincoln Park Boat Club. I can still see the big smiles on the kids’ faces once they overcame the initial apprehension about being in the boat – and – getting a little too brave, until the inevitable tip-over, which quickly extinguished all bravery.

So how can we increase minority participation in our sport? Perhaps best by supporting with time and money those organizations that have it as their mission to do so. Participation in paddlesport is expensive as we all know, even second or third hand equipment eventually adds up to what is better spent on food or rent. Then there is the issue of how to get to the place to paddle, which for youngsters, requires a parent to get involved. And….two or three low paying jobs don’t really allow for this either.

So please – support the following organizations – and there may be others, too.

FOREST PRESERVE FOUNDATIONwww.forestpreservefoundation.org

CHICAGO ADVENTURE THERAPYwww.chicagoadventuretherapy.org

CHICAGO VOYAGERSwww.chicagovoyagers.org

MELANIN BASE CAMPwww.melaninbasecamp.com

Safety on the Water

By Greg Taylor

SO, now that we are dealing with this lifestyle-changing, pandemic virus lockdown, I’m hearing on the street and in the news that personal watercraft and bicycles are flying off the shelves. Go to any Walmart and try to buy a bike, or Menards for a kayak, or Dick’s for a canoe. These places are making a killing selling them. Tires and inner tubes for bikes are virtually non-existent. I know most of you who are reading this are highly interested in personal propulsion watercraft. So there is now definitely a fairly large new group of paddlers plying local streams, lakes, and rivers. We are now looking at a large potential group of people not following highly suggested guidance on safe paddling, such as not drinking while enjoying their easy going paddle down a wide beautiful river like the Fox in Illinois. I am not going to say it is not tempting, yes it surely is, but two things should make you think twice: first one is about as easy as the second one. First, I wouldn’t want to have to be forced into a decision-defining moment such as a strainer while inebriated. The second is just as easy. I am not driving home buzzed.

Newbies to our time-honored fabulous sport need a tremendous amount of training and time in the saddle to paddle safely. So while writing this article, I was unfortunately disturbed to open my Facebook feed and find a video of a man at Hammel Woods caught in a low head dam. Commentators stated, “he just wanted to go fishing.” Later I opened up Facebook again and a gentleman that I found I’ve met before at PSC training session posted an article about a family of six that were rescued from the DuPage River near Channahon on Sunday. Their rafts became deflated and they luckily found shelter on a tree in the water. Some of the individuals were found with personal floatation devices, others were not. Sorry to be such a downer during an even more depressing social disaster we are all having to live through, but potentially life-ending situations like this are absurd to be happening. I can only fear that they are only going to increase through the summer into late fall. The uninformed in our sport are also creating an unnecessary danger to themselves. I am thinking it is time to make it mandatory that people must pass a test and become certified before buying a canoe, kayak, stand up paddle board, etc. You need a driver’s license before you can buy a car. You have to have a pilot’s license to fly a plane. You need a FOID card before you can buy a firearm in this state. Anyone can discharge a firearm like anyone can successfully paddle a boat? Although possible, not the wisest decision without the proper training.
Editor’s note: IPC has been working with the WSF to address the issue of newcomers to the sport by contacting the big box stores to give out safety information.  Please see more about their latest work here.

River Management Society and Chapter Leadership

Summary information about River Management SocietyMeet the RMS!

The River Management Society (RMS) is the nation’s only network whose mission is to support professionals who study, protect and manage North America’s rivers. RMS connects those who work on and for rivers: outfitters and guides, river rangers, landscape architects and planners, environmental lawyers, fluvial geomorphologists, scientists and students.  Members represent a tradition of expertise and experience among those who work with, and for, federal and state agency, water trail, recreation and advocacy organizations.  

We are proud of several major initiatives created during the past few years, which include:

The National Rivers Project, an evolving national database of rivers that allow visitors to ‘shop’ for a water trail, whitewater or wild and scenic river experience by state or federal agency.  Thanks to well over forty partners, the http://www.nationalriversproject.com website includes over 1,000 rivers and over 14,000 access points, most recently adding many rivers in Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and Indiana.

The River Training Center is new and developing on-demand webinars like one held recently about the River Access Planning Guide for folks interested in designing, redesigning or re-purposing a river access site as use and demand change or grow.  If you are interested in seeing the webinar, please email RMS at rms@river-management.org, for it was not yet posted at the time of this writing.

Hydropower License Summaries – Helpful to paddlers who have been involved as an advocate for recreational releases from a hydropower dam RMS.  Hydro licenses are beasts, often 150-200 pages in length, and these summaries provide easily digestible ‘Cliff Notes’ versions which allow project stakeholders to learn their basic provisions, like the organizations involved with their negotiations and the days and times of annual scheduled recreational releases. 

RMS is seeking new participation from the Midwest and its states which collectively boast so many wonderful recreational river miles.  We would love to help grow a posse of river stewards who work with each other and agencies to go a bit beyond simply enjoying the rivers by plowing the sometimes complicated issues related to insuring equitable access, managing use conflicts and paying for new or improved access for everyone who has discovered the joy of running rivers.

Please visit river-management.org to learn more about the organization and contact Risa Shimoda if you would like to help paddlers, managers and stewards share experiences and insure a healthy and wise management future for our rivers!  

Risa Shimoda, Executive Director

RMS River Access Planning Guide cover page

Forest Preserves of Cook County – Paddling Opportunities for Everyone

photo of people in canoe
2019 FPCC Paddlefest Skokie Lagoons

In 2019, the Forest Preserves District of Cook County provided numerous free opportunities for individuals, families, youth organizations, and academic institutions to partake in paddling events.  These programs were, and continue to be, available to constituents from all regions of Cook County.

The Greater Maywood Paddling Program provides chances for organized groups to connect to nature and water through kayaking experiences. Group leaders are presented a series of trainings on kayaking by Forest Preserves staff members. Upon completion, certified leaders will be able to access the Kayak Gear Lending Library to take their group members on paddling trips at Thatcher Glen Pond or along the 5.5-mile stretch of the Des Plaines River, starting at Maywood Grove and ending at Plank Road Meadow Boat Launch in Lyons.  Last year’s organizations included: Westchester Public Library, Austin Career Academy, Maywood Park District, Outdoor Afro, West Suburban Special Recreation, Opportunity Knocks, Oak Park River Forest High School, New Star Special Recreation Services, Proviso East High School, and Reavis High School.

Additional paddling events took place in various FPDCC regions.  The Ralph Frese Memorial Paddle, Sunrise Coffee and Canoe Cruise, and Fall Paddle Fest were features of the New Trier Township.  Evening paddles encouraged participants from the Elk Grove and Glenview villages, while the Des Plaines Canoe and Kayak Marathon paddled through surrounding towns from Lake County to Mount Prospect.  The greater Elgin area had the chance to paddle the pond at Rolling Knolls.  The southern end of Cook County had the opportunity to get on the water during the Little Calumet River Cleanup, Kids Fest at Wampum Lake, and Beubien Festival at Flatfoot Lake.

Tim Mondl
Outdoor Recreation Program Coordinator-North Zone Department of Conservation & Recreation Programming
O: 708-386-4042 EXT 26 • C: 224-456-8602 Timothy.Mondl@cookcountyil.gov
1140 Lake Street, Suite #309 • Oak Park, IL 60301

fpdcc.com | facebook.com/fpdcc | twitter.com/fpdcc

The Newest Best Tactic for Reaching the Un-Reachables

Logo of Water Sports FoundationA small non-profit is making bold moves to reduce senseless paddlesports casualties

For more than five years, I’ve been trying to learn exactly how so many people perish while enjoying paddlesports.  According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics report, 613 Americans died while boating.  Of them, 167 died while participating in canoeing, kayaking, standup-paddleboarding, row-boating and on inflatables.  While overall boating deaths have declined for three straight years, paddlesports deaths have increased!  

By comparison, paddlesports doesn’t involve high rates of speed, spinning propellers, dangerous carbon monoxide or flammable fluids like its recreational powerboat cousin, yet horrifically, nearly one-out-of-every-three boating deaths are paddlers. 

With the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Water Sports Foundation determined that, of paddlesports deaths, nearly 75% of paddlers had less than 100 hours of experience (when level of experience was known) and the figure remains just below 45% for deaths where the paddler had less than 10 hours of experience.  

This information supports the theory that the majority of paddlesports accidents and deaths occur with paddlers who have very little paddling experience.  It makes sense, right?  More experienced paddlers understand the inherent risks involved in paddlesports and they mitigate them.   It’s probably also true that, in general, more experienced paddlers visit paddlesports pro shops, are members of paddling clubs and enjoy paddlesports media content. 

But newcomers to the sport who have not yet joined a club or subscribed to paddlesports content are nearly impossible to reach.   In fact, one recreational boating safety specialist refers to them as the “un-reachables.”

Over the past ten years, paddlesports has seen explosive growth, especially in kayaking and stand-up-paddleboarding.  According to the Outdoor Foundation’s most recent Outdoor Participation Report, in 2018, 34.9 million Americans participated in paddlesports.  This figure represents a 26.9% increase over 2010 participants, which were measured at 27.5 million.  

Much of this growth has been fueled by relatively inexpensive kayaks and SUP’s being sold through discount big box and club stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Tractor Supply, Walmart, Sam’s Club and Costco, just to name a few.  

Earlier in the decade, as manufacturers found ways to mass-produce kayaks at low price points, the big box and club stores saw an opportunity to cash-in by selling them.  It’s not absurd to think that many of these purchases were made on an impulse decision to buy and no research was involved.  

The problem is that millions of new paddlesports participants were fed onto our waterways each year with no instruction on safety such as, understanding the U.S. Coast Guard carriage requirements including the need for an approved life jacket, the importance of taking a safe paddling course or, simply understanding the inherent risks of paddlesports. 

For more than ten years the Water Sports Foundation (WSF) has been a recreational boating safety outreach partner with the U.S. Coast Guard and since 2011, the WSF has received more than seven million dollars in non-profit federal grants.  The funding is specifically designed for outreach campaigns that are designed to increase awareness of safer boating and paddling practices.  During the period, nearly 200 video PSA’s were developed and distributed by America’s most popular boating and paddling media companies producing nearly one billion media impressions. 

Most recently, the WSF embarked on a new safety crusade to invite executives of America’s top retailers to join the conversation on paddlesports safety.  On June 8, 2020, forty-four letters were sent to top executives and board of directors’ members of ten of the nation’s largest re-sellers of recreational paddlesports equipment including stores that you recently shopped.  They include Academy Sports & Outdoors, Bass Pro Shops, BJ’s Wholesale, Cabela’s, Costco Wholesale, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dunham’s Athleisure, Sam’s Club, Tractor Supply, and Walmart.

The letter was co-signed by five independent recreational safety organizations including the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), BoatUS, the American Canoe Association (ACA), the Life Jacket Association, and the WSF.   

The letter includes a supporting quote from Verne Gifford, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Recreational Boating Safety Division Chief who said, “Our direct-to-consumer outreach campaigns are changing the boating culture and in recent years they’ve helped to reduce the number of fatalities, but newcomers to paddling who have not yet joined a club, an association or subscribed to paddle sports content are very difficult to reach. Having retail partners that are willing to help inform new paddlers of basic safety knowledge would be extremely helpful for our continuing efforts to reduce casualties.” 

The letter goes on to share details on the number of America’s paddlesports deaths and then encourages the retailer to join the safety conversation and to help reduce senseless deaths.  See the entire letter on Facebook.com.

Results of the effort are not yet compiled as tracking notifications of delivery have only recently been received.  The WSF has high hopes that one day, representatives of the world’s largest kayak and SUP retail establishments will get involved and help develop solutions that avoid senseless paddlesports deaths.  The campaign’s internal motto is “Repeat Customers are Good for Business!”  With some luck and a little help from others, perhaps this will be the year that the trend in paddlesports deaths will be reversed.

For more information or to join the fight to reduce senseless paddlesports casualties, please contact Jim Emmons, Non-profit Outreach Grants Director at the Water Sports Foundation, 407-719-8062.


Recreate Responsibly on the Fabulous Fox! Water Trail

bow of kayak in waterDuring the past several weeks, we have been advised to get outside regularly for fresh air and exercise while abiding by public health guidelines and logical restrictions to our beloved public open spaces. As these restrictions are gradually lifted, let’s celebrate being able to freely enjoy the outdoors!

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in changes to our routines and limited our options as we navigate our day-to-day lives. According to the Emotional Well-Being During COVID-19 Pandemic brochure posted on the Kane County Health Department website, there are “normal physical, emotional, mental and behavioral reactions to the abnormal situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Being outside can have a variety of physical and mental benefits and help us cope with the “abnormal situation” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While we should always focus on our mental and physical health, we can’t forget about the economic health of our local communities! Locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue and resources back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.  Support local restaurants and grocery stores by picking up a healthy meal for your trip.  Who isn’t hungry after walking, biking or paddling?  A visit to a historical/cultural site can be a nice compliment to an outdoor activity. There are many businesses and historical/cultural opportunities within walking distance of public open spaces throughout Kane County. So, go outside and give your senses a treat. Watch the seasons change; listen to the birds; smell the blooming flowers; touch the bark on the trees. Smile and laugh as you enjoy the benefits of being outdoors!

One of Kane County’s greatest open space assets is the Fox River. Not only is the Fox River a significant linkage within the green infrastructure network; municipalities have recognized the Fox River as an open space and community amenity by acquiring riverfront acreage and designing river walks to link housing, parks, forest preserves, shops, offices and restaurants in their downtowns.

Stakeholders along the entire length of the Fox River from the headwaters in Wisconsin to the confluence with the Illinois River in Ottawa, Illinois are developing the Fabulous Fox! Water Trail to provide suitable access for the public to enjoy quiet and active recreation, scenic beauty, abundant wildlife, and historical and cultural features. 

In addition to information about safety, paddlers can find printable maps of 14 segments of the Fox River; information about amenities and the over 80 access sites along the River, making it easy to plan a trip.

Consider a paddling trip on the Fox River, but before you venture out, please follow the six guidelines offered by the Recreating Responsibly Coalition:

reminders for safe recreating during pandemicFabulous Fox Water Trail Logo