Home » Illinois Paddling Council Blog » Archives for Tom Eckels » Page 2

Author: Tom Eckels

President, Illinois Paddling Council
Program Manager, Water TrailKeepers

ACA Leadership Academy


  • Dates: November 9-11, 2018
  • Location: Isle of Palms (Charleston), SC
  • Cost: $150

As part of the ACA’s leadership role in the paddlesports community, we have transitioned to the new ACA Leadership Academy to target all facets of the paddlesports community.

In partnership with Charleston County Parks & Recreation Commission (CCPRC), the ACA is pleased to present an array of on-water clinics and courses that will help you savor the rich history, remarkable paddling, and ecological diversity of Charleston!


In conjunction with the on-water programming, instructor updates, and networking opportunities, we will be hosting the Safety Education & Instruction Council (SEIC), the PAC Advisory Council, Competition Council, and the ACA Board of Directors.



Baad Grants Needed to Support Illinois Paddle Sports

Kayakers and canoeists do enjoy their sports, but first they have to get there. Paddlers perpetually confront the question of where to put in, where to take out and where to park their car, truck or SUV. Some parts of Illinois have well-developed access points and outfitters to serve them, nearly always for a fee, even if it’s just parking on their property or using their access to put in or take out. In other less developed areas, the dedicated kayaker or canoeists still always finds a way, parking on side streets near bridges, working our way down overpass rights of way or asking landowners to pass through their property. But for many, it takes something more to make a weekend trip down an Illinois river a little less, shall we say, challenging.

And this is where the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Boat Access Area Development (BAAD) grant program comes in. https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/aeg/pages/boataccessareadevelopmentprogram.aspx

The Boat Access Area Development Program provides financial assistance to local government agencies for the acquisition, construction, and expansion or rehabilitation of public boat and canoe access areas on Illinois’ lakes and rivers. The program provides up to 100 percent of approved project construction costs and 90 percent of approved land acquisition costs. Projects are limited to $200,000 per project per year. Revenue for this state funded program is earmarked from the marine motor fuel tax and previously from water usage stamp paddlecraft registration fees. While the WUS is now eliminated my sources tell me that the program was revenue-neutral in any case and that operational costs for the WUS nearly matched the revenue taken in by the fee.

The BAAD program connects Illinoisans with their waterways. Having a publicly accessible place where land meets river with a parking area and a relatively easy and safe place to launch or take out a canoe or kayak makes all the difference in a person’s enjoyment of a day, morning or afternoon on an area river.

Back in 2014, while Marc Miller was still DNR Director, $715,000 was awarded to six communities for BAAD grants. These projects included canoe and kayak launches in Galena on the Galena River and Freeport on the Pecatonica.

Yet, while details about the BAAD grant program are clearly posted on the DNR website, it also now says “The Boat Access Area Development Grant Program is not accepting grant applications at this time.” It has said so for three years running now, since the 2015 budget stalemate. It has not been funded or reinstated by IDNR. Even communities, including my own Village of Mahomet that were approved for BAAD grants during the 2015 application cycle were not issued funding as the state of Illinois froze BAAD grant funds prior to their release to communities during the budget crisis.

In a press release touting the program and announcing the 2014 BAAD grant recipients, then-Governor Pat Quinn said: “These projects will create jobs, offer recreational opportunities and promote healthy lifestyles.” He added: “They will also promote economic development by adding one more attractive feature to each of these communities.”

And in 2014, then-DNR Director Marc Miller said: “These grants will help Illinois communities develop safe access for boaters wanting to use public waters for fishing and water skiing or to launch a canoe or kayak.” He added “Providing access to recreational opportunities is a top priority of the IDNR, and we are excited to offer these grants to communities that are helping us accomplish that goal.”

The BAAD program need not be redeveloped or recreated, just funded again by the General Assembly – through earmarked funds and reauthorized by the Illinois DNR. A program this important and this valuable to promoting the natural resources of our state should not be frozen out, but should be reinstated and made available for all communities as soon as possible.



(Chicago – June 8, 2018) Openlands and Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Management Program announce three family focused paddling events, organized along the Lake Michigan coast in northern Illinois. These events will provide opportunities for kids and adults to explore and enjoy Lake Michigan this summer, and introduce them to the greater Lake Michigan Water Trail. Events will include beginner-friendly paddling experiences and water safety training. In addition, there will also be guided tours of natural areas and other family friendly activities such as fishing, provided by local partners. These events and all activities are free and no registration is required.


“Illinois’ northern coastal region is rich with opportunities for outdoor recreation,” said Catherine Buchalski-Smith, an Outreach & Engagement Specialist with IDNR’s Coastal Management Program. “In speaking with our many partners, we identified the need to develop free public programming to enhance opportunities for Illinois residents to connect with Lake Michigan in new and exciting ways. We hope that visitors to these events will enjoy their experience and return to the area to continue recreating along the shores of Lake Michigan.”


“The Lake County Nature Network (LCNN) is excited about the upcoming water trail events that will show many more members of our communities how much Lake Michigan has to offer,” said Susie Hoffmann, Lake Forest Open Lands’ Director of Education and LCNN representative. “The water trail not only provides recreation, but also allows us to introduce new groups to this ecosystem’s rich natural history and environmental significance.”


“We hope these events will help grow the already popular paddling culture in Lake County and expose new paddlers to the access points on Lake Michigan,” said Openlands’ Aquatic Ecologist Laura Barghusen. “The more access you can provide to the water, the more people will end up using water trails, and we know that greater use and appreciation leads to more advocates and stewards of our region’s water resources.”


The paddling events will take place:


  • Saturday, June 30, 11am – 4pm, North Point Marina, 701 North Point Drive, Winthrop Harbor, IL 60096
  • Sunday, July 1, 11am – 4pm, Illinois Beach State Park, enter on Wadsworth Road, 1/5 mile east of Sheridan Road, Zion, IL 60099
  • Friday, August 3, 1 – 7pm, Waukegan Harbor, 55 Harbor Place, Waukegan, IL 60085


Additional information (also in Spanish) on the paddling events is available at



Federal Lawsuit Filed to Force Dynegy to Clean Up Toxic Pollution of Vermilion River

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Force Dynegy to Clean Up Toxic Pollution of Vermilion River
Recent Video Documents Continued Coal Ash Contamination of Illinois’ Only National Scenic River

Contact: Jenny Cassel, Earthjustice, jcassel@earthjustice.org or 215.717.4525
Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network, arehn@prairierivers.org or 217.344.2371 x 208

May 30, 2018 (Urbana, Illinois) — Prairie Rivers Network, represented by Earthjustice, today filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois to force Dynegy to clean up toxic coal ash dumps that are leaching harmful pollution into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois’ only National Scenic River. Newly-released videodocuments the pollution at issue in the lawsuit, which argues that Dynegy is violating the Clean Water Act. The pollution has tainted the river with visible orange, purple, and rust-colored toxic residue.

“Dynegy left a toxic mess on the banks of one of Illinois’ most beautiful rivers, and has done nothing to stop the dangerous, illegal pollution from fouling waters enjoyed by countless families who kayak, tube, canoe, and even swim in the river. Dynegy has left us no choice but to sue,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Cassel, who represents Prairie Rivers Network.

The pollution is leaching from coal ash generated at Dynegy’s now retired coal-fired power plant, the Vermilion Power Station. For decades, the ash left over from burning coal at the plant was dumped irresponsibly into unlined ponds that together run approximately a half-mile along the river. Coal ash contains a slew of dangerous pollutants that are linked to cancer, heart disease, and strokes, as well as lifelong brain damage for children. Sampling from the river found a “toxic soup” including arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and sulfate. Concentrations of boron and sulfate – primary indicators of coal ash contamination – were repeatedly found in groundwater at the site above levels deemed safe by Illinois and U.S. EPA.

“We have a rare jewel in our midst. My brothers and I learned how to swim in that river and spent countless hours exploring it. Over the years, my wife and I have introduced our children, grandchildren, and extended family to the river to enjoy the beauty, peace, and excitement of being outdoors. We must work together to see that this coal ash problem is solved safely,” said local resident Mike Camp from nearby Collison, who grew up along the river and in sixty-four years has never lived more than two miles away from it.

American Rivers recently named the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River one of the ten most endangered rivers in the United States due to the coal ash contamination. The Vermilion County Board has twice unanimously passed resolutions asking Dynegy to clean up the mess.

The river and its banks are popular for kayaking, other boating, tubing and hiking, with thousands of visitors each year. The Middle Fork runs through Kickapoo State Park, which gets over one million visitors each year.

“As you travel along the river, one minute you are enjoying spectacular natural beauty and the next you’re looking at unsightly chemicals leaching into the water. It’s jarring. It’s bad for the local community and the wildlife—including several endangered species—associated with the river. Dynegy is jeopardizing the local jobs and the economy that depend on visitors who value the river for recreation. No one wants to swim or boat in toxic soup. Dynegy should use some of the money they made when they ran the plant to clean it up. They’re the ones who chose not to safely dispose of the coal ash,” said Rob Kanter, a naturalist and writer who serves on the Board of Prairie Rivers Network.

Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt is proposing to gut the protections for coal ash pollution nationwide, even as evidence mounts that coal ash dumps such as those at the closed Vermilion power plant are leaching dangerous chemicals into rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Even absent strong federal protections for legacy coal ash sites, however, Dynegy still must comply with environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act.

According to today’s lawsuit filed by Prairie Rivers Network, Dynegy has been discharging without a proper permit and in violation of Illinois environmental and health standards for years. Prairie Rivers Network will ask the court to order Dynegy to “take all actions necessary” to stop the illegal pollution that is being discharged to the Middle Fork, and to pay penalties to the United States Treasury of up to $53,484 per day for each day over the last five years that Dynegy has violated the Clean Water Act.

The Middle Fork and its surrounding area host twenty threatened or endangered species, fifty-seven types of fish, forty-six different mammal species, and two hundred seventy different bird species. The river is home to state-endangered Blue Breast Darter and several species of rare, threatened, and endangered mussels. The American bald eagle, river otter, and wild turkey have returned to the area, sharing their habitat with mink, turtles, Great Blue Heron and other species.


LINCOLN HERITAGE WATER TRAIL – http://www.lincolnheritagewatertrail.org/

LINCOLN HERITAGE WATER TRAIL – http://www.lincolnheritagewatertrail.org/

The Lincoln Heritage Water Trail spans two historic sites – the Lincoln Homestead State Park near Decatur and the New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg. These sites bracket an Abraham Lincoln tale, replete with quick wit and strong will, that began in 1831. It starts with a canoe trip by a 22-year-old Lincoln upon a flooding Sangamon River from his family’s homestead site near Decatur to the Springfield area. At Sangamo Town, seven miles northwest of Springfield, he built an 80-foot flatboat and set off for New Orleans but ran aground at the mill dam below the New Salem bluff. Undaunted, he saved it from sinking (with an auger commandeered from the village cooper shop) before continuing his journey.

The Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association works to create a living tribute to the Sangamon River and open it up to e

exploring the water and landscape, largely unchanged from Lincoln’s time.  The Sangamon River offers a rare opportunity to canoe, kayak, fish or just float and take photos of native life on the Illinois prairie and the rolling hills of the river valley.

The stretch of the Sangamon River from Decatur to Petersburg, has the direct historical connection with the life of Abraham Lincoln and was first formally recognized in 1965 when Illinois Governor Otto Kerner designated it as the Lincoln Heritage Canoe Trail.

Currently, the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail is being expanded to the river’s upper reaches, thanks to the efforts of the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy (http://sangamonriver.org)  and the Sangamon River Alliance (http://sangamonriveralliance.org). For more information on either of these groups, please contact Scott Hays at sphays12@gmaiol.com

2017 Competition Results

IPC’s Competition Committee every year sponsors several races.  Points are given for each race a paddler enters. To qualify for a trophy, a paddler be an IPC member and enter half of the races in the particular class s/he enters. Points from the best half of the races, plus one, will be used to determine the class champion. First place is awarded 10 points, 2nd = 9, 3rd = 8, ect. down to 5th = 6 pts. Winners are announced at the annual Awards Dinner with the first place winner able to enjoy the travelling trophy for a year. Sixtytwo paddlers participated in the events below in 2017 – let’s try to double that number in 2018!

The Points Races for 2017

Current Buster on the Fox River – St Charles

Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon

Voyageur Landing on the Fox- Elgin

Pontiac Race on the Vermilion River – Pontiac

Joe Kowsky Race on the DuPage River – Channahon

Vic Hopp Rac on the Des Plaines – Dam # 1

Flatwater Classic on the Fox River -St Charles

The Pecatonica in Freeport was canceled because of high water


And the Winners are:

Adult/Youth – Ray & Dylan Grzenia, 2nd Ben & Luke Josefik

C2 – Standard Pat Faul/ Steve Conlon

C2 Men – Dave Buckley

C2 Master- Kevin Bradley/Don Mueggenborg, 2nd Ed Hahn

C-1 – Jody Runyon, 2nd Dave Kies

Sea kayak – Jim Pechous


Jim Pechous is PADDLER OF THE YEAR – having committed to and actually paddled 1200 miles this year.

He is shown with the travelling kayak trophy – it can be yours to enjoy for a year if you win enough K1 races in 2018.

KANKAKEE RIVER NATIONAL WATER TRAIL – http://www.kankakeeriverwatertrail.org

Claimed to be one of the cleanest rivers in the Midwest, the Kankakee has ancient wetlands, cliffs and canyons, wooded islands and the gentle farmlands of northwestern Indiana and northeastern Illinois along the 133-mile stretch. There are four distinct trips – check the website and trip map for details:

  1. Upper River – Kankakee Headwaters to the Yellow River: This entirely channelized section runs through farmland, with very little tree cover in many areas.


  1. Wooded Channel – Yellow River to the State Line: This mostly channelized section has more tree cover and runs through several state parks and conservation areas.


  1. Ancient Wetland – State Line to Momence: At the Illinois state line, the river reverts to a natural meandering course through some of the best wetland habitat in the Prairie State.


  1. Grand Waterway – Momence to the Illinois River: A boater’s and paddler’s playground through urban and suburban areas, with a long run through Kankakee State Park before meeting the Illinois River.


Recognizing the cultural, environmental, recreational and economic significance of the Kankakee River, its 2016 designation as a National Water Trail, and its related watershed, various individuals came together in 2017 to create the Potawatomi Paddlers Association (PPA). This organization was formed to encourage and enable safe and environmentally-sensitive recreational use of the Illinois portion of Kankakee River National Water Trail for paddle sports, leave-no-trace camping and other non-motorized activities by all people attracted to the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of river recreation. This mission will be accomplished through the planning and implementation of public information and education campaigns, and through activities that build and sustain a positive recreational environment.


The focus of the PPA is to carry out a myriad of planning initiatives and play a key role in changing how municipalities within the Kankakee River watershed treat the River in development ordinances and plans. This includes but is not limited to river edge improvements to include boat landings, water side parks and other enhancements; policy initiatives aimed at improving the quality of the river so that it can support native plants, fish and other wildlife and a variety of recreational uses; on-the-ground projects that result in physical improvements and preservation of quality habitat; and education and outreach programs that inform and inspire people to help revitalize the Kankakee River.


The PPA meets on the second Thursday of each month. As we try to reach out to all areas along the Kankakee River between Momence and Wilmington, the location of our monthly meeting changes each month. Times and locations of our meetings are posted on our Facebook page.


For more information, please contact the Potawatomi Paddlers Association at P. O. Box 503, Kankakee, IL 60901, or contact PPA President Frank Koehler at fjkoehler@aol.com.


THE PECATONICA RIVER WATER TRAIL – http://www.paddlethepec.com/

THE PECATONICA RIVER WATER TRAIL – http://www.paddlethepec.com/

Established in 2006 by an intrepid group of paddlers who cleared tons of debris from the river, raised funds to establish ADA accessible boat launches, put in place concrete picnic tables that wouldn’t wash away in a flood, Paddle The Pec is described as Illinois’ Most Friendly Paddle. There are eight sections described on the website.

The river’s best friend is the Friends of the Pecatonica Foundation. Its mission is to preserve, protect, and foster the vitality of the Pecatonica River for the plant, animal and human communities within the Stephenson County, Illinois watershed.

The Pecatonica River enters Illinois at Stephenson County north of Winslow. The name is believed to be Native American for crooked stream. The Pecatonica River is 58 miles long in Stephenson County and 94 miles in Illinois. The river joins the Rock River at Macktown, near Rockton. The early years saw roads develop all over the county. Many of the roads connected the mills that were in use in the county. Crossing the Pecatonica resulted in several ferries operating in the county. Toll bridges replaced the ferries and would be replaced with public owned bridges. The railroad was a significant influence for the area.

The organization has two very interesting postcard books of historic river scene photos going back to the turn of the century which they use as a fund raiser. For more details – contact pecriver@pecriver.org, or Joe Ginger jtginger@mac.com

Picture shows McConnell’s Bobtown Landing



The Fox River of Illinois—not to be confused with the Fox River of central Wisconsin—arises in southern Wisconsin in a lake basin about 15 miles northwest of Milwaukee. From this point, the Fox flows southward for over 200 miles (114 miles in Illinois) and drops 470 vertical feet to reach its confluence with the Illinois River. As the Fox enters Illinois, it passes through Illinois’ Chain o’ Lakes and then meanders southward through Lake, McHenry, Kane, Kendall and LaSalle Counties.

The Fox River is a major waterway with many small islands. Its steep valley has an average gradient of 3.6 feet per mile, and its strong flow made the stream a good source for industrial waterpower. This led to early industrial development with many dams and mills built on the stream. Now most of the old mill dams are gone, but they have been replaced by hydroelectric, flood control, and navigation dams.

The Fox River Ecosystem Partnership (FREP) was formed in 1996 after the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) designated a core of high-quality ecological resources in the northern-most watershed as a “Resource Rich Area”.  Portions of eleven counties, including Lake, McHenry, Kane, Kendall and LaSalle, form the Fox River watershed, which is home to 11% of the state’s population.

FREP has joined with the Southeast Wisconsin Fox River Partnership and the Village of Waterford, Wisconsin, to pursue the designation of all or portions of the Fox River in Wisconsin and Illinois as a National Water Trail through the National Park Services’ National Water Trail System. Technical assistance from the NPS Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program has been awarded and planning is now proceeding.

Volunteers are needed to submit information about paddling the river, historic information, and more.


Contact Karen Miller millerkaren@co.kane.il.us for more details


The Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Trails Plan was originally conceived by Gary Mechanic as national efforts to establish water trails and their benefits to local communities became better  known. This plan established a vision for providing water trails for non-motorized boating on ten of the Chicago area’s waterways. Designed by representatives from local governments, tourism advocates, conservationists and paddlers, the plan designated nearly 500 miles of waterways as recreational water trails.

These water trails include the Calumet Area, Chicago River, Des Plaines, DuPage, Fox, Kankakee, Kishwaukee, Nippersink, Salt Creek and Lake Michigan. Details:  https://paddleillinoiswatertrails.org/



 Public Waters in Illinois


For an interactive map of publicly navigable waters



Water Trail details from the National Park Service




Lincoln Heritage River Trail Report




Banner Marsh


Fox River




For a national list of water trails