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Holm v. Kodat and the Current State of Illinois Water Access Law

no trespassing sign on chain link fenceScott Hays, President, IPC

Illinois paddlers have been dismayed by the recently released Holm v. Kodat decision of the Illinois Supreme Court (175 NE 3d 119 – Ill: Supreme Court 2021 to read the decision, click here). Importantly, the ruling didn’t change anything that hasn’t been established law in Illinois for many decades. Rather it upheld existing Illinois law that owners of property along the banks of “non-navigable” Illinois rivers (the “riparian corridor”) also own the property rights on the river surface itself out to the midpoint of the river. If one owner owns property on both sides, they in fact “own” that section of the entire width of the river and those who paddle through their “private property” can legally be found guilty of trespass.  The issue in Holm hinged on the rights of one riparian owner – Mr. Kodat – to block river access by another riparian owner – the Plaintiff Holm – on a “non-navigable river” in Illinois – the Mazon.

While Holm v. Kodat changes nothing about water rights and access law, it has focused greater attention on the issue and raised the ire of many paddlers, many of whom (understandably) have only a vague understanding of what Illinois river access law actually is. This has naturally drawn attention to the current status of laws affecting Illinois rivers (pardon the pun).  

OUR PUBLIC WATERS

Under federal law, when a state was admitted to the Union it also became the owner of the bodies of water within its borders that were navigable for interstate commerce “for the public benefit of its citizens.” “Public benefit” sounds pretty good, but then the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) clarifies that: “Under Illinois law the IDNR was given the responsibility of determining what bodies of water within the State are to be designated as a public body of water (i.e. navigable for commerce).” (Rivers, Lakes and Streams Act, 615 ILCS 5/5)

Using a standard of “navigability”, the IDNR has therefore determined which waterways would be public and which would not be. IDNR lists the “navigable” and therefore “public” waters of Illinois here:

https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/WaterResources/Pages/PublicWaters.aspx

The net result of this listing is that of the 87,110 miles of rivers and streams in Illinois (not counting the 880 miles of river Illinois is bordered by), only approximately 30 rivers (or portions thereof) are classified as navigable. So hey, if your river – or one you’d like to paddle – is listed, paddle away! Don’t even bother reading on!

If not – which is most paddleable rivers in Illinois – then your river is unfortunately a “non-navigable” and therefore “non-public” river. As mentioned above, riparian owners who own property along any “non-navigable” river “own” the property out to the centerline of the river and by extension, those who own property on both banks along a stretch of river also “own” that stretch of river as their private property. As a practical matter, paddlers heading downriver (or upriver) who cross into this private property can legally be found guilty of trespass.  Happily, most riparian owners on most of our rivers don’t often accuse paddlers of trespass. Yet this creates an uneasy alliance that sometimes cracks, as in the recent DuPage River issue or more recently in Holm v. Kodat. 

The Court goes on to explain:

This court has long recognized that “riparian rights apply to all flowing streams whether navigable or non-navigable, but with respect to navigable streams, the right of the riparian owner is subject to a public easement to use the river for navigation purposes.” A waterway is navigable and subject to a public easement if it naturally, by customary modes of transportation, is “of sufficient depth to afford a channel for use for commerce”. If, however, the waterway is nonnavigable, the riparian owner owns “the bed of the stream” absolutely, free from any burdens in favor of the public.” Here, it is undisputed that the Mazon River is a nonnavigable river and, therefore, has no public easement for access. (¶ 29&30)

NAVIGABILITY

“Navigability” then is a key factor in determining whether a river could be considered public or private, so let’s review how Illinois defines navigability.

Here, the Illinois Supreme Court follows a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, which states that

streams or lakes which are navigable in fact must be regarded as navigable in law; they are navigable in fact when they are used or susceptible of being used, in their natural and ordinary condition as highways for commerce, over which trade and travel on water are or may be conducted in the customary modes of trade and travel on water. (United States v. Holt State Bank, 270 U.S.49 (1926)

Of course, paddling a canoe or kayak could be considered “customary” and certainly counts as a “mode of travel on water.” Paddlers can easily navigate several rivers or streams across our state. Nonetheless, for our purposes here we must stick to the law which rules out any common-sense understanding that paddlers may choose to apply regarding the concept of “navigability.”

In the case of Hubbard v. Bell (1870), the Illinois Supreme Court rejected a “pleasure boat test” of navigability, stating: “that it was not every small creek in which a fishing skiff or gunning canoe can be made to float at high water, which is deemed navigable. In order to have this character, it must be navigable to some purpose useful to trade or agriculture.” (Hubbard v. Bell, 54 Ill. 110.)

Never mind that this dates to 1870. This mindset was then more recently updated in 1905:

…A stream is navigable in fact only where it affords a channel for useful commerce and of practical utility to the public as such. The fact that there is water enough in places for row boats or small launches answering practically the same purpose, or that hunters and fisherman pass over the water with boats ordinarily used for that purpose, does not render the waters navigable. Schulte v. Warren, 218 III. 108 (1905).

All of this was reiterated and put even more bluntly by the Appellate Court in Holm v. Kodat: “[I]t is irrelevant, for purposes of determining navigability in fact, that the Mazon River can support kayaks.” (2021 IL App (3d) 200164, ¶ 28).

So according to current Illinois law, a river isn’t “navigable” even if paddlers can actually navigate it by kayaks, row boats, small launches, or the “ordinary boats of hunters and fisherman.” Furthermore, a canoe or kayak is apparently not “a customary mode of travel on water.” OK then. One is naturally left curious about whether our courts feel that those who operate commercial boat rental liveries on rivers for the enjoyment of the public are actually engaged in “some purpose useful to trade,” “useful commerce,” or are in fact doing anything of “practical utility to the public” at all. But no matter, they are nonetheless non-navigable rivers and therefore private unless the river can handle barges or steamships or some other “useful commerce” of that sort.  

TO BE CLEAR: RIVERS ARE NOT LAKES

One point made by Holm in Holm v. Kodat is that an earlier Illinois Supreme Court ruling known as “Beacham” should apply here (Beacham v. Lake Zurich Property Owners Ass’n, 123 Ill. 2d 227, 1988). Beacham resolved a dispute among riparian owners on Lake Zurich in favor of all lakefront property owners having access to the entire surface of Lake Zurich, which was a “non-navigable” body of water, like the Mazon River. But the Illinois Supremes pointed out for us that while the plaintiff (Holm) argued that there isn’t a meaningful difference between rivers and lakes for the paddling community:

We disagree. A lake is essentially a flat expanse of relatively still water…. In contrast, streams and rivers can have widely varying topographical features and characteristics, including differing currents, depth, and width that may change with the seasons. Naturally, then, a riparian owner’s use of a lake will likely differ from a riparian owner’s use of a river or stream…. a nonnavigable lake is sufficiently distinct from a nonnavigable river or stream to render Beacham inapplicable. (¶ 38)

Full disclosure: I am a riparian property owner (who loves it when Sangamon River paddlers pass by the part of the river I “own”). Like many of us, I have paddled both rivers and lakes. While I have noted the distinction that lakes are generally big and round and rivers are long and narrow, I don’t actually “use” them any differently. But no matter. The Supremes find them to be “sufficiently distinct” so that’s that.

In fairness, the Supremes seem empathetic to the plight of paddlers:

In closing, we acknowledge plaintiffs’ advancement of public policy arguments in favor of promoting the recreational use of nonnavigable streams and rivers in Illinois…. Because the majority of waterways in Illinois are nonnavigable, plaintiffs urge this court to adopt a legal rule granting a riparian owner on a nonnavigable stream or river a right to use the entire length of that waterway to promote its reasonable recreational use. (¶ 55)

Yet, in their Conclusion, they state:

For the foregoing reasons, we decline plaintiffs’ request to hold that they have a right, as riparian owners on the nonnavigable Mazon River, to use the entire length of that waterway to cross the property of other riparian owners without their permission. (¶ 58)

In the end, our Justices clearly had an opportunity to more closely scrutinize and update our anachronistic Illinois water law with a ruling that could have favored Holmes by extending their own Beacham decision regarding lakes to rivers, but chose not to.

So what now?

ALTERNATIVES

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which adheres to Illinois law and rulings of the Illinois Supreme Court, has for some time offered two legal means of opening up paddlers’ rights on non-navigable rivers under current Illinois water law.

First, as the Court points out, other riparian owners do not have a right “to use the entire length of that waterway to cross the property of other riparian owners without their permission.” So, one means of gaining access to rivers is to ask permission.

Of course, for a stretch of river, those who wish to paddle it would need to seek permission from every riparian owner along that route. This was recently done at significant effort by the Paddle the Kish organization on the Kishwaukee River. But if one owner fails to grant permission, the success of this kind of effort could be threatened. Nonetheless, IPC can share legal documents (shared with us by “Paddle the Kish”) which were created so that riparian property owners can clarify their intent to grant such permission, should they wish to do so.

Alternatively, anyone can petition the IDNR to add their river to the navigable rivers list. According to the Illinois Administrative Code, “any person may petition for an order to add a body of water to the list when it can be shown that the candidate is or was navigable and is open or dedicated to public use.” (17 ILL. ADM. CODE CH. I, SEC. 3704.40).

The petition has to name the body of water, where it is, include a statement on its past or present navigability, and/or statements of people living along the river that “it is common knowledge that the body of water has always been open to public use” along with other information that make it rather the equivalent of the Wizard telling Dorothy to report back with the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. However, IDNR wants you to know that getting that broom is at least theoretically possible (as Dorothy made clear – in a work of fiction).

A FINAL WORD: HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL

Although the Holm decision reiterates and therefore strengthens and clarifies Illinois water law, two things from the Holm decision point to the path ahead for our paddling community. First, the unanimous opinion clearly states:

In our view, the legislature is the best venue to consider plaintiffs’ request for the creation of a new public policy on riparian rights for nonnavigable rivers and streams in Illinois, which constitute the majority of waterways in this state. As the parties’ arguments and the amicus curiae briefs demonstrate, plaintiffs’ request for a new public policy involves significant competing interests that we believe the General Assembly is better equipped to address. (¶ 56)

Which means that – although one could argue that resolving disputes among competing interests is what courts are for – these Justices certainly don’t want to get involved in resolving these “significant” competing interests. So they’re letting the law stand and in so many words, telling the paddling community, “Go ask your Mother.”

In addition, Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. writes in a specially concurring opinion signed onto by Chief Justice Anne Burke:

I believe it is time for Illinois to move away from its common law that limits the use of nonnavigable lakes, rivers, and streams to riparian landowners and move to the recreational navigation doctrine, so that all waterways are available to the public for recreational use…. I concur in the result reached in today’s opinion, but I encourage the legislature to promulgate legislation so that the state’s nonnavigable lakes, rivers, and streams are not limited to use by riparian landowners but are available to the public for recreational use. (¶ 61, 81)

Finally, going back to a 1998 report that unfortunately has remained unpublished, entitled: “Water Law and Recreational Access”, the IDNR concluded that:

As more and more recreators use Illinois streams, their currently limited legal right to use non-public streams will at some time be challenged. When that challenge comes, regardless of how it comes, increasing the facilities and information that provide actual access to Illinois’ public and public use waters will have built a broader constituency to support further expansion of the public’s access rights. Building and informing this constituency is essential to affect the change in river access rights that recreators and conservationists desire.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is precisely the legacy that we here at the Illinois Paddling Council wish to continue. Stay tuned…

 

Illinois Supreme Court affirms private property owner’s rights to “non-navigable” rivers

No Trespassing Image - Copy

In issuing their opinion in Holm v. Kodat today the Illinois Supreme Court once again affirmed the rights of a riparian owner over the rights of a paddler on Illinois’ “non-navigable” rivers. According to the decision, paddlers on non-navigable streams can be found guilty of trespass for paddling on rivers without explicitly granted property owner permission.

Read the full decision attached.

Yet, for a slightly hopeful assessment pointing to a legislative solution, focus on paragraph 56, near the end of the decision and on the “Specially concurring” opinion written by Justice P. Scott Neville, Jr. and signed on to by Chief Justice Anne M. Burke.

It looks like the paddling community has it’s work cut out for us, folks. Stay tuned for more…

Holm v. Kodat, 2022 IL 127511

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.

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

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

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

New Boat Launch on the DuPage River in Lisle – Finally

Boat-Launch-Design-1 Lisle-Boat-Lauch-Site-0.png

The forever on again off again project?

The first public launch on the East Branch of the DuPage River has long been in the works. The Lisle Park District started this endeavor back in 2007 with informal communications with various paddling groups as a means of testing of the waters (pun intended) to construct a launch in Community Park, located just west of the intersection of Route 53 and Short Street in Lisle.

The feedback was unanimously positive, so we engaged architects and engineers to design a launch and submitted funding applications to the IDNR’s Boat Access Area Development Grant Program.

After several unsuccessful years, we were finally notified in 2015 that our project was to receive funding. However, that funding was put on hold and eventually swept away during the governor transition at that time. We were notified in the summer of 2018 that the 2015 grant would be honored. After several months of completing the required paperwork for this award, the Lisle Park District bid the project last August.

Unfortunately, bids came in much higher than expected and budgeted. After researching the benefits of such a boat launch, especially given the growth of paddlesport participants, with the help of the Illinois Paddling Council, the Board of Park Commissioners followed staff’s recommendation to reject all bids and rebid the project in January 2020 when we expected a more competitive bidding environment.

The project was bid this January as recommended and the low bid was close to $32,000 lower than the low bid from August 2019. The Park Board unanimously approved awarding the contract under staff’s statement that “now that we have the grant agreement from the IDNR, the financial commitment from the Lisle Partners for Parks Foundation, adequate funding in the Park District’s 2020 Budget and now a low bid that is within current budget allocations, it appears the stars have finally aligned.”

We may have spoken too soon by not anticipating the current pandemic, but for now, we remain committed to seeing this project through. Construction is tentatively scheduled for August and as of the writing of this article, the Lisle Park District is being optimistic about following through on this 13-year initiative and looks forward to seeing a lot of you at the ribbon cutting and thereafter! Stay tuned and think positively!

-By Dan Garvy

Director of Parks & Recreation

Lisle Park District

Pedal, Paddle, & Hike

100_1879 JAT Bridge A 100_1379

Pedal, Paddle, and Hike!

Those words embody the vision we had when work started on developing the Pecatonica River as a water trail in Stephenson County. We worked long and hard and were able to reach that goal. Most importantly, we advocate for our projects and we raise money to build our projects.

We were designated a WaterTrail by Stephenson County. That wasn’t enough. Our initial plan identified launch sites for the Pecatonica River throughout Stephenson County. Our plan was developed using Illinois Paddling Council procedures. Work on additional sites was begun. Brochures were printed, events were scheduled, and use of the Pecatonica River promoted. We were designated a water trail in the State of Illinois.

Except for Mother Nature “raining on our parade” or flooding, things are progressing. Now we see what could be a step backward in the “Pedal, Paddle, and Hike” plan. The Jane Addams trail is part of a “Rails to Trails” conversion of former railroad routes, to bike trails. Part of the bridge near Cedarville Road has deteriorated to the point where the maintenance equipment used on the trail cannot use the bridge. Bicycle traffic is acceptable, for now.

The bridge in question is about 133 years old, was a construction of Chicago, Madison & Northern, 1886 – 1888, and part of the Illinois Central. The route was abandoned in 1985. Railroads take bridges very seriously and that is why it has lasted so long. However, it is time for some attention for this structure.

Jane Addams Trail, 133-year-old bridge support

The current economic situation, caused by the Covid—19 pandemic, is likely to impact municipal income at every level and for a very long time. Those interested in maintaining the current level of recreational opportunities will need to make their voices heard and participate in the search for funding to maintain existing bike and hiking trails. You should also realize that not all of the local representatives are in support of all recreational activities. It is important to make your opinions known and to be prepared to work together finding ways to fund our resources.

For us, the Wes Block site for the Jane Addams Trail was on our list as a potential launch site because it is half-way between McNeil’s Damascus Landing and Tutty’s Crossing. The site was also the trailhead for the Jane Addams Trail. Now there is a bike trail connection from Wes Block to Tutty’s Crossing, which also has a boat launch and a canoe/kayak launch. If you bike, hike or paddle, get involved in finding the funding solutions.

Joe Ginger, president
Friends of the Pecatonica River Foundation

Jane Addams Trail

The Illinois Central was chartered by the Illinois General Assembly on February 10, 1851. At its completion in 1856, the IC was the longest railroad in the world. Its main line went from Cairo, Illinois to Galena, Illinois. In 1886, the Chicago, Madison & Northern ran a line north from Freeport to Madison, Wisconsin, completed by 1888. They joined the Illinois Central in 1903. The line ran through Scioto Mills and Red Oak. At Red Oak, the Illinois Central built a junction station where the line branched. The northern branch, running through Buena Vista and Orangeville, became known as the Madison branch. This branch is what now constitutes the Jane Addams.

On February 1st, 1888, the first train ran the entire distance between Freeport, Illinois and Madison, Wisconsin.

Joseph Ginger
jtginger@mac.com

IPC SUPPORTS THE FABULOUS FOX! WATER TRAIL – REQUESTING REMOVAL OF THE FOX WATERWAY AGENCY’S STICKER FEE FOR SELF PROPELLED PADDLERS

As part of IPC’s support to obtain National Water Trail designation for the Fox River, IPC’s Advocacy Chair, Scott Hays has approached the Fox Waterway Agency to request removal of the sticker fee for self propelled paddlers.

This water access fee – issued in the form of an annual watercraft sticker – for a canoe or kayak less than 17 feet in length is $15.00 per year.  Paddle craft longer than 17 feet, of which there are several types, need to pay the Class A fee of $50/year. Paddlers who are visiting the area – or passing through on a longer journey down the Fox River Water Trail, would presumably either be required to pay $15.00 for an annual sticker to pass through the Chain of Lakes area, or – if their watercraft were longer than 17 feet – would be required to pay the 1-day temporary permit – Class J fee of $20.00 for craft under 25 feet, which applies uniformly to all watercraft, human-powered or not.

These fees are to maintain adequate water depth for the Chain of Lakes water ways, but this is not an issue for paddlers.

Please support IPC’s and the Fabulous Fox! Water Trail team by contacting the Fox River Waterway Agency, requesting removal of the sticker fees by writing to

Joseph S. Keller, Executive Director

Fox Waterway Agency

45 S. Pistakee Lake Rd.

Fox Lake, IL 60020

847-587-8540