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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.

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

A New Canoe/Kayak Launch is in the future for DuPage!

Image of Graue MillBy Connie Schmidt 

There is a proposal for a dam removal project on Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods. Over the past 18 months, the DuPage River Salt Creek Work Group (DRSCWG) has been preparing a Master Plan for Salt Creek at Fullersburg, which includes dam removal, and over a mile of stream restoration. The draft Master Plan is now complete and they are ready to present it to the public and solicit comments . 

There will be two live webinars on July 7 at 7 pm and July 9 at 11 am to view the presentation for the upgrades. Registration is required and can be done through the www.restoresaltcreek.org website.  If anyone cannot attend, the webinars will be recorded and posted on the RestoreSaltCreek website for viewing later.  

In addition, contacting the Forest Preserve of DuPage board of Commissioners is important.  They are the decision makers on this project as they own the property.  Here is a link for them: https://www.dupageforest.org/our-board/board-commissioners  

There are many benefits to removing the dam: improving water quality in Salt Creek, restoring fish and macroinvertebrate biodiversity, increasing access to recreational and educational opportunities, and saving taxpayers millions of dollars through this cost-effective approach to improving water quality and stream habitats. A canoe/kayak launch is planned along the river at this point as well.  

It is important to know that the historic Graue Mill and its operations will be preserved; and in fact, arguably enhanced with improved aesthetics from stream bank restoration and the planned additional amenities such as a canoe/kayak launch that will attract more people to the site. 

This project is part of the DRSCWG’s Special Condition and is the last project remaining on the TMDL Alternative Plan (Dam removals at Churchill Woods and Oak Meadows are already completed). It is very difficult to see how a satisfactory fish population can be established on Salt Creek while the Graue dam remains intact. 

You can visit (and share) the www.restoresaltcreek.org website for additional information. 

In addition, please go to this site and sign a petition for this project to be completed.  https://act.sierraclub.org/actions/Illinois?actionId=AR0272531 

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



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


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