Opportunities for paddle sports education are numerous throughout the Midwest, mainly through two different organizations or their affiliates (i.e., local paddling groups), Paddlesports North America (PNA) and the American Canoe Association (ACA). Both groups provide reliable instruction suitable for those who have never paddled, to the more advanced. Skills and instructor courses are offered by hundreds of trained instructors, across a wide spectrum of paddling, safety, and rescue disciplines. Course requirements vary considerable between these two groups. In addition to PNA and ACA, the United States Canoe Association (USCA) offers a one-day instructor certification course focused on the basics of canoeing.
Below are relevant links to PNA, ACA, and USCA instructors and course offerings. Note that new courses are added to each organization’s calendars during the year. Also, some instructors may not be teaching classes currently.
Some of you may remember the reenactment of the Marquette & Joliet Expedition by Ralph Frese, which in turn lead to La Salle: Expedition II, a reenactment of the 1681-82 voyage of La Salle from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico for which Ralph also built the six canoes.
I just received a copy of the book that Craig Howard wrote about LaSalle II and it is such fascinating reading that I could not put it down. Although I am not quite through (it’s over 300 pages) since Amazon just delivered it two days ago, I would urge anyone interested in not only history, but also learning more about Ralph, and most importantly, the incredible journey that the crew of seven adults and sixteen teenage boys accomplished, to read this book. Reading about the three-year preparation in the selection of the crew, the interpersonal relationships among the expedition members, and the hardships encountered during this 3,300 mile journey, have left me almost unable to put the book down.
I learned of the book by chance, after PaddlingLife.net published the summary of this year’s Des Plaines Marathon event. The book’s author, Craig Howard, saw the item and subsequently contacted the editor, who forwarded me his note. I asked Craig how he was able to write this book and here is his response:
“Like the expedition itself, it was a team effort. Many people pitched in to tell their stories. My job was to stitch together their stories, to let them tell it as it was, and to keep the heck out of their way. Many things deserve to be remembered, and this expedition is one of those. Shakespeare’s Marc Antony spoke the truth of it in Julius Caesar: ‘The good (that men do) is oft interred with their bones.’ Expedition II falls into this category.”
Postscript: A second book on the LaSalle II Expedition has been written by Lorraine Boissoneault, who will talk about it in a presentation October 20, at the Evanston History Center. See details here (scroll down 1/2 page)
Put two great ways to travel on the water together – paddling and sailing – and you have canoe sailing.
The first time I tried it was almost my last time doing anything.
I had a 16’ canoe made of orange crates – plans from Boys Life. I bought it used and wish I never got rid of it, but that is a different story. It was my first canoe.
My folks had a summer cottage on Wonder Lake.
I got the idea. Found an old bed sheet and some 2 x 2”s, a little rope, and I paddled down to the end of the lake. I had nailed the sheet to a 2 x 2. I tied the second 2 x 2 to the front thwart of the canoe and tied the rope to the sail.
With the wind at my back, I hoisted the sail and started moving. Slowly at first.
I tied the end of the rope to a thwart and was steering with my paddling. I was sitting in the back of the canoe.
I started moving, this was great. The wind picked up.
Now there was pressure on the paddle, it was good as long as I didn’t change the angle of the paddle. I realized I couldn’t turn or I would flip over. I couldn’t get to the rope to drop the sail.
And I was really, really moving. Headed straight for the pier!
My dad was standing on the far end of the pier.
I was about to bail out when I heard a “crack.” The mast broke. The broken mast and the sail fell forward and I went flying under the pier.
My dad just looked at me as I whizzed past and said “Good plan – breaking the mast just at the right time.”
Now I still sail a canoe once in a while. A 26’ or 22’ Voyageur canoe. With a crew to raise the sail, two people to hold the ropes at the ends of the sail (do not tie them), and one person to steer.
“I was on a lot of sports teams before and after our trip,” said former gymnast Terry Cox. “But I never learned as much about teamwork as I did with La Salle: Expedition II.”
Sixteen junior boys at Elgin and Larkin high schools worked together in 1974-76 to master modern sciences using arcane instruments; to learn history, music and French, and to discuss it all with people from Montreal to the Gulf of Mexico while reenacting La Salle’s journey to claim the Mississippi watershed for France.
As Illinois teenagers in 1976, the canoe men of La Salle: Expedition II paddled up the St.
Lawrence River and dueled ten-foot waves on Lake Ontario before starting an arduous portage north across metro Toronto. Cox, then 27, was one of half a dozen adult directors.
Dressed as 17th century voyageurs, the travelers wore moccasins that scarcely cushioned their feet as the boys trudged five miles for every road mile – a total of 175 miles – ferrying six canoes and three tons of equipment. The caravan marched over hot city pavement and rural gravel roads and through hills so rugged that La Salle himself called them les montagnes.
And that was the easy part.
The boys became men as they paddled their canoes into the coldest winter in the history of the Midwest. Lake Michigan froze from shore to shore, and all the rivers iced solid, including the mighty Mississippi. The 35-mile Toronto portage paled beside the 500-mile hike from southern Michigan to southern Missouri, where the river ran free again.
On Saturday, Aug. 6 the adventurers reunited to mark the 40th anniversary of launching their incredible voyage they had in 2012 to celebrate the 35th year of their arrival – on schedule – in the Gulf. Clif Wilson, who was capsized in 39-degree waters near Green Bay and run over by a truck in Indiana during the ordeal, organized the gathering. Randy Foster, who cooked during the expedition, cooked again for his mates.
The morning after their celebration, the voyageurs once again gathered deep in the Ontario hills for a 6.5-mile hike along Weston Road to the place where they had once again eased their canoes into water at the Holland Canal and paddled toward a rendezvous with history.
For several days now, besides the seaweed in the river, there were globs of something floating in the river.
I have called the IEPA about possible pollution before – time to call again.
I paddled on a Tuesday and saws the stuff – whatever it was.
Wednesday I called the Des Plaines office of the Illinois EPA. After a bit of a discussion, I was switched to a field officer (or whatever the title).
Me: “There is stuff floating in the river, it might be raw sewage.”
EPA: “Is it green or brown?”
Me: “Ahh – brownish-green or greenish-brown. Anyway – I paddle the river frequently and this is something different. It might be sewage.”
EPA: Where are you paddling? We will try to get out there to see what it is
I gave him directions, just above the first bridge north of the river – turn right – well, left if you are coming from the north, right if from the south. Wind your way to Madison Street, but it is not marked – go toward the river past the treatment plant.
THURSDAY – the river is as clear as I have ever seen it.
Call the IEPA back – they are not going to find anything today.
Me: “I’m the guy that called yesterday about the pollution on the Des Plaines.”
EPA: We haven’t –“
I cut him off –
Me: “You guys really act fast. What a great job. I called one day and the next day the river is clear. Great Job!”
EPA: We haven’t got there yet. Probably the heavy rain and cooler weather today. With hot dry summers, the algae tend to grow. Treatment plants also add phosphorous. We will check it out.
By the way – I can’t seem to find the place you mentioned. Wind around where?”
I gave him better directions – turn East at the stoplight on Bluff Road – by a gas station – dead-ends into Madison St, turn right to the river.
Call the IEPA if you think the river is being polluted. In my experience, they really do respond.
The photos are of places on the lower Des Plaines.
For several decades, a group of dedicated volunteers has diligently worked to remind us that Chicago would not exist were it not for the fact that it straddles a continental divide, and was founded because it enabled a continuous waterway from the East Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.
Most people think of Chicago as the birthplace of skyscrapers – yet – its maritime history has been almost forgotten – until just now – so visit the Chicago Maritime Museum at 1200 West 35th Street – 773-376-1982 – www.chicagomaritimemuseum.org
For us paddlers, the museum hosts a revolving exhibition of the canoes and kayaks from the Ralph Frese Collection that he donated to the museum as a founding father. The exhibits transit the evolution of the marine history from the use of dugouts, canoes, then schooners, steam ships, barges, and more.
You can also watch a video of Ralph Frese, whose passion for canoes, history, and nature will inspire you and many others today: IN CANOEING, WE HAVE THE ONLY TRAIL IN NATURE THAT LEAVES NO TRACE OF OUR PASSING.
The museum also holds many treasured exhibits that demonstrate much of what has made the Chicago area what it is today.
Chicago’s Public TV station, WTTW, had a wonderful presentation and article about the museum, which can be accessed at:
Paddling safely, and staying within the bounds of Illinois water laws, can be a sticky proposition at best. Most people would think that in a state such as ours, one that has more flowing water than most, we should have plenty of paddling opportunities. Unfortunately for those who like to recreate, the large majority of the water in the land of Lincoln is privately owned.
By law, one would be trespassing should they try to paddle a “non navigable waterway” without written permission from every landowner along the reach that the person wished to paddle. Our waters are located largely in rural agricultural settings. Livestock fencing, culverts, and irrigation machinery are likely to be encountered. A stream paddled cleanly one day could have an electrified fence stretched across it legally the very next, and become a real hazard. These areas are almost all used for hunting, in a lot of cases paid hunting. This time of year is turkey season throughout the state. Most turkey hunters who have accidently shot someone, first saw a patch of blue or red briefly before they took the shot. These are the same colors as a wild turkey’s head. I, for one, wear a red lifejacket, and therefor don’t tempt fate. It’s a sad fact that simply being on some of our most well-known streams, the Mackinaw, Big Bureau Creek, etc., without written permission could lead to an arrest, or even worse, an unwanted accident. Bottom line, be responsible and get permission before paddling through private land.
We have a number of “public” waterways and lakes that allow us the legal right to paddle. Comprising less than 10% of all of Illinois water, these “navigable” steams and lakes offer many opportunities for adventure and recreation, but also come with some caveats. Unfortunately, the land along most of these waters is still privately owned. We can enter to, and egress from, a public waterway if the land is publicly owned and meant for that purpose, or if the paddler has permission from the landowner to be there.
See the map here for a list of Illinois Navigable Waterways and you’ll most likely find a nice paddling destination close to home.
Remember, ALWAYS where your lifejacket CORRECTLY, and have a safe paddle!
Earlier this spring, three paddlers were out on the DesPlaines River around Lincolnshire. Water Levels were high but not anywhere near flood. Water Temps were still cold, and Air Temps were cool–high of the day in the 50’s.
Not a day anyone would want to take a swim.
But it can happen at any time.
Paddler 1 was navigating through a strainer. Paddler 2 followed a bit too closely and got swept sideways to the strainer. Even a moderate current flipped his canoe within seconds ,sweeping him under the strainer.
Paddler 2 pushed his boat out of the way and climbed aggressively to get on top of the strainer.
Paddlers 1 and 3 tried to reach to paddler 2 with a long branch to pull him to shore. That didn’t work.(and would have required paddler 2 to get back into the cold water) Paddler 2 did not want to get back into the cold water if he could avoid it so the throw bag option was out as well.
So instead, some rope was attached to the bow of a canoe. The canoe was floated over to paddler 2. He got into the boat and was pulled back to shore. All three paddlers got warmed up and paddled the rest of the way without incident.
No One panicked. All three paddlers had training, including rescue practice to fall back on. If this happened, would you be ready to help your paddling buddies? Please consider taking appropriate paddling and rescue training to the type of paddling and paddling venues you enjoy!
Celebrate the Little Calumet River with recreation and environment activities and learn about the history and ecology of the Little Cal!
Clean up tools, breakfast snacks and lunch will be provided.
This year we will begin at Kickapoo Woods in Riverdale. Advanced paddlers and those with their own boats are asked to bring them. Those needing a loaner boat and inexperienced paddlers are also invited to attend. There is no charge for this event, but all participants must register in advance, indicating whether or not you are bringing their own boat during registration.
River Clean Up. 9:00am – 12:30pm. Two teams–one launching upstream, another downstream–for on-water clean up. Return to launch ramp in time for lunch.
I know that the Illinois Paddling Council counts among its membership many paddlers, who, like me as a rower, have several decades of experience plying the Chicago area waterways, particularly the River, under their belts. We know the stark difference between then and now; between the long, slow, steady growth of human-powered and other traffic, and the explosion of all varieties of traffic which has occurred in the last decade. While on the one hand we are heartened to observe the tremendous growth in human-powered craft usage, on the other hand we, and other types of users, are gravely concerned about the safety implications inherent in waterways crowded by a rich diversity of vessels and users operating at widely divergent levels of operational knowledge, skill, and safety practices.
Increasing concerns over safety risks on Chicago area waterways led to a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment (PAWSA) being conducted by the Coast Guard on March 27-28, 2012. The purpose of the PAWSA was to identify major safety hazards, estimate risk levels, evaluate potential mitigation measures, and set the stage for implementation of selected measures to further reduce risks in the Port of Chicago. PAWSA participants included representatives from marine stakeholder organizations and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels, including law enforcement.
By conclusion of the PAWSA process, it was clear to the participants that a new harbor safety committee structure was needed that would effectively bring together the diverse variety of Chicago waterway users who have mutual interests in the use of navigable waterways, with the agencies which oversee the waterways. The challenge in drafting a charter for this new harbor safety committee was building a structure that at every level ensured the appropriate marine interests would be represented and the appropriate expertise applied to solve problems and educate the public.
(Remember that last sentence as you read on, for the application, as appropriate to the issue at hand, of all of the relevant marine interests and their expertise to solve problems and educate the public is at the very heart of the CHSC. If your voice, expressing its concerns and knowledge are not in the CHSC room, then you, and the marine community collectively, may just as well hand it over to other interests or unenlightened third parties to make decisions about our waterways’ usage).
The Chicago Harbor Safety Committee (CHSC) was formed on July 15, 2013. The CHSC Charter, which required approval of the Coast Guard, was the result of a year-long effort to devise a harbor safety committee for Chicago which suited the nature of this marine community and its waterway challenges. The approved charter emerged from historical elements in the Chicago marine community (its less formal predecessor harbor safety committee, the 12-year old Port Development and Safety Council), best practices gleaned from other harbor safety committees around the country, and many rounds of input from marine stakeholder and government agency representatives.
Despite the heavy workload to get the new organization up and running, the CHSC did not hesitate to take immediate action to improve the traffic safety on the Chicago River. Faced with a rapid increase in the number of “close calls” between commercial and industrial vessels (tour boats and barges) and rental boats (kayaks and electric boats) during the 2013 boating season, the CHSC sprang into action less than a month after its inaugural meeting on July 15th, and proposed a traffic and hazard warning signage plan which received Coast Guard approval. The signage that you now see posted along the Chicago River alerting to hazards, directional instructions, and no wake zones was the result of this collaboration between the CHSC, the City, and the Coast Guard.
Other accomplishments of the CHSC since its formation in 2013 include successful collaboration with the City on Chicago Riverwalk project construction activity; dissemination of numerous safety relevant alerts, documents, and publications; coordination and collaboration on filming and special events projects on the River and Lake; operational modification of the Centennial Fountain; development and presentation of a Chicago waterway-specific safety education presentation; and perhaps most importantly, CHSC’s very detailed and recently released Safety Recommendations and Guide to Rules and Regulations. New projects now underway include development of a web portal for user-relevant safety training and certification.
For more information about the CHSC and how to join as an individual member or marine stakeholder organization member, please drop me a note at email@example.com. Pardon our mess while we complete work on our website, www.chicagoharborsafety.com. A couple of weeks from now, that will be the place to go for everything CHSC and Chicago area waterways related.
For anyone not familiar with Ralph Frese – this is why we celebrate him by holding a special event in his name on the stretch of the river called the “Ralph Frese Canoe Trail.”
Ralph owned the Chicagoland Canoe Base where he was both a blacksmith and canoe builder. When we started paddling in 1973, it was about the only place in the area where one could buy a canoe and also be given the education as to what to do with it. It was also the place where the voyageur canoes used in the Joliet & Marquette Expedition and in the movie Centennial were built.
I asked Rita, his widow, how long Ralph owned the Chicagoland Canoe Base and she said, “I’m not sure. Ralph wasn’t either. But very likely starting with his dad’s blacksmith shop in the little building. I think you could say close to 70 years.”
One of the best stories about Ralph can be found here: http://www.chicagonow.com/booth-reviews/2011/10/at-85-life-is-still-but-a-dream-for-mr-canoe-ralph-frese/. The City of Chicago honored him by naming the street next to his shop the “Honorary Ralph Frese Way.” (See photo below)
Please consider honoring Ralph by also paddling the 59th annual Des Plaines River Marathon, May 22 (www.canoemarathon.com). Ralph started the marathon after building a hundred or more little fiberglass canoes for his boy scout troops to give them something to do and to showcase the natural environment that still existed around a large metropolitan area.