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Plum River Report

By Joe Ginger


On July 29 and lasting until July 31st, the Plum River in Savanna, Illinois, will benefit from the efforts of individuals with the goals of making a navigable stream completely open for paddling, fishing, and wildlife interests, in short, creating a recreational destination for area residents and tourists. When completed, the Plum River will present 9.7 miles of paddling which uniquely requires only a two mile car shuttle. The stream is currently blocked by at least four known logjams. This problem will be addressed by a plan to manage timber stands along the river. The project combines three day community work and concurrent with one week AmeriCorps team work.

One of the significant features of the project is the resources deployed in the effort. The list includes, Carroll County Soil and Water Conservation District, Blackhawk Hills Regional Council, Savanna, Mt. Carroll and AmeriCorps Team, area contractors, residents, and local landowners. Volunteers and donations are welcome. For more information on efforts to connect scenic Old Mill Park to the Mississippi, and later from Mt. Carroll to Spring Lake to Thomson, check it out at:



Using Technology to Help Plan Your Next Paddle

By Mike Cocat

You just learned about a new stretch of river, and you’re doing your homework prior to heading out. How do you calculate trip distance? With Google’s free online mapping tool, it’s easy! Just follow the steps below to get started:

  1. Using any internet browser on any computer you can access the mapping tool at http://google.com/maps.
  2. Locate the lake/river you want to measure. This can be done in multiple ways. Search for a point of interest close to your put-in, like a forest preserve name or city. If you are familiar with the area, just zoom in to the location using your mouse wheel or the on-screen zoom function.
  3. Right click on the portion of water where you intend to start your paddle, when the menu pops up, click “Measure distance.”
  4. Now, with your left mouse button, click a section of water in the direction you will be heading. Immediately it will begin to calculate your distance between clicks and add up the total distance. This will be displayed on the screen near your most recent click.
  5. Proceed to click along your intended trip path. Note, that each click will be a straight line from your previous click, when going around bends make sure you follow the contour of the water.
  6. Feel free to click and drag the map, or zoom in and out, as you plot your trip.
  7. When you reach your take-out, click one final time and take notice of the final trip distance. If you look back at your path, it will be conveniently marked at each mile increment.

A video demonstration – https://youtu.be/upf0OcL2hGg

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to ask on the PSC/Yahoo mailing list, zenpaddler.com, or via my email.

Mike Cocat



My Favorite Rivers – Nippersink Creek

By Don Mueggenborg

If you like to paddle narrow, winding rivers – the Nippersink might be just what you want. If you like to paddle an hour or two without seeing houses, farms, or people – the Nippersink. Add to that glacier remnants called Kames that rise as small hills for a different kind of scenery – the Nippersink.

Over one hundred ago, the land the creek ran through was farmed. By taking the bends out of the creek, it was easier to farm, so they straightened the creek. Then the Kames were in the way of a proposed highway, so there was a proposal to cut them down.

Enter the McHenry Conservation District. They acquired the land for a park. To draw people’s attention to the beauty of the area, they started the Trail of History – a historical re-enactment.   (As a re-enactor, it was a beautiful sight to behold, and the re-enactment was the most educational that I have attended, with many different displays.)

From an aerial photograph, the original creekbed could be seen, so the Conservation District has re-routed the creek to its original course – adding many bends and at least a half hour to the trip.

The trip begins at Keystone landing, just southwest of Rts 31 and 12 in McHenry County. The water is usually on the low side, especially since the creek was re-routed. This requires some river reading. (Expect to hit bottom once or twice with your paddle or even with your boat). Bends are somewhat tricky since the river has not yet carved out a clear channel.

And you see the Kames from all angles.

Boulders have been placed in the river to make it more natural. In time, they will be moved by current and probably make the passage easier.

All of this makes for a scenic paddle and sometimes a technical paddle – certainly a paddle in solitude. A chance to appreciate nature.

Pioneer Park is the destination – a couple to three hours paddle. You can continue on with more farmland and fewer bends to Spring Grove and to the Nippersink Canoe Base on route 12. Each stretch is a couple hours of quiet paddling away from the hustle bustle of the city. (Beyond the Nippersink Canoe Base, the creek is channelized down to the Fox River, where one encounters power boats – and the quiet is forgotten. I suggest stopping at the canoe base.)

nippersink 1     nippersink 2

Re-dedication of Illinois’ First Water Trail

By Scott Hewitt

The Lincoln Heritage Canoe Trail, our state’s first dedicated water trail, ran from near Decatur, to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site on the Sangamon River. Governor Otto Kerner dedicated this Trail on Memorial Day Weekend 1965, with over 200 paddlers attending the original ceremony. Notable guests included Gunner A. Peterson, Executive Director of the newly formed Open Lands Project, and Ralph Frese of the Chicagoland Canoe Base, who brought his 30 ft. “barker” canoes to the event. Over the 3-day weekend, the group paddled 66 river miles, camping in between.

The Trail’s significance lies in its deep connection to Abraham Lincoln, who navigated the river first by dugout canoe, then by flatboat, eventually helping to pilot the first paddlewheel steamboat up the Sangamon. Due to a lack of available infrastructure for promotion and maintenance in 1965, the Trail was largely forgotten. In 2010, a group of like-minded individuals formed the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association (LHWTA) to promote, protect, and maintain the Trail.

LHWTA will host two re-dedication ceremonies this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original Lincoln Heritage Canoe Trail in 1965. The first event, Abe’s River Race, will be held May 23, and is a 12-mile race down the Sangamon from Irwin Road to Petersburg. Then a recreational paddle on October 3 will coincide with the candlelight tour at Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site.

Starting from a glacial moraine east of Bloomington, the Sangamon flows 264 miles to its mouth near Beardstown, and is the largest tributary of the Illinois River. Please view the following links for additional background information about the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail:




LHWTA Website:


LHWTA and Abe’s River Race Facebook:



My Favorite Rivers – Upper Des Plaines

By Don Mueggenborg



It is not often that you get a “new” river to paddle without leaving the old one. This year for the Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon, we will have a different river to paddle as more dams are removed. Most of this stretch of river is within forest preserve so you see trees, birds, maybe a beaver or coyote.

Of course, you can paddle this river whether or not you paddle the marathon. It is a lot of fun paddling with several hundred other people on the river with you, but a solo paddle or paddle with a couple friends on the quiet river can be enjoyable also.

We start out at Oak Spring Road in Libertyville. Take the ramp down to the river or launch from the shore. There is plenty of parking, except on race day when you might have to walk a block from your car to the put-in.

Note – there is also a bike path. Paddle down to Vernon Hills and bike back for a change of pace. I love to paddle and bike. You might even be able to load the bike in the canoe and only shuttle one way to pick up your canoe. Sorry kayakers, I haven’t seen the kayak that can carry a bike.

Within minutes there is a sharp curve to the left – fun when 10 other boats are trying to make the turn with you. Then under Rt. 73 and Old Rockland Rd. For a short trip, there is a park just past the bridge.

We wind our way downstream. As we round a bend, a large building rises to your right and you are approaching Hollister Dam. Is the dam still there (if so, slide over the notch in the center of the dam). If the dam is gone, how has the river changed?

Vernon Hills has a unique takeout. Just under the bike path bridge, there is an opening into a pond and the takeout is from the pond. (The IPC and Marathon helped put in this portage.) (If you planned to bike, this is probably a good spot to combine the two.)

Below the Vernon Hills access there is another small dam, or was a small dam. Again, if it is gone, has the river changed?

More bends, some shallow water by the golf course. This always provides a challenge – you usually can get through if you are very careful (apparently I am seldom careful for I often touch gravel with boat or paddle).

There is a park off Half Day road that can be used as a takeout. There is also a launch site in Lincolnshire, but I find that hard to find – both from the river and from the road.

Continue on – shoot though the old Ryerson Dam. This was taken out a couple years ago; not much effect on the water level, but fun to go through.

Look for the big blue building. Get over to the right as there are remnants of an old dam on the left (stay with the current and you should be ok).

At Potawatomi Woods (Dundee Rd), there is an area near the river to launch canoes. This is the start of the Minithon part of the Des Plaines Marathon. About five miles to go to the Marathon takeout.

A new river – Dam # 1 has been removed and the river is busy finding its channel. The long stretch above the old dam may be a grind with low water.

Under Willow Road and the river seems to have fewer curves. Start looking for Milwaukee Road bridge and fast water before Allison Woods – the last takeout before the Dam # 2 finish line.

A few more bends – ducks by the nature center – Euclid Ave – and Dam # 2 takeout is in sight. Again, a new river as Dam # 2 has been removed. Nice takeout at Dam #2 woods.

It was a fun run – on race day, stop and get a sandwich, talk with friends and fellow paddlers, listen to the band and enjoy.

The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon and the Minithon will be held May 17, 2015. Go to canoemarathon.com to register and join the fun.

One of My Favorite Rivers: Kankakee River By Don Mueggenborg


There is an effort being made to designate the Kankakee River as a National Water Trail. The Kankakee River in Illinois, especially from state line to Momence, is one of the prettiest and (in high water) most exciting rivers in the state. There is a campground at Warner Bridge (Kankakee State Park). Usually the only power boat traffic is fishermen, and not many of them (although on a warm summer weekend you may encounter heavier traffic near Momence, but I found them respectful of canoes.)

It has a long history. LaSalle paddled here in 1681. Horse thieves and bank robbers liked to hide in the backwaters near the state line in the 1800’s. When they channelized the river in Indiana, they wanted to continue into Illinois, but were met with armed citizens to stop them, thus the river in Illinois is a pleasure to paddle.

There are also a couple of odd laws that apply to the river.

The laws – 1) You cannot go on the island in Momence with your canoe or paddle (although you can put in just across from the island with no problem); 2) You cannot portage the dam in Kankakee (but with a block long portage it is ok); 3) You cannot portage the dam in Wilmington from the island (you take the mill run to the right and then portage)

In Indiana, the Kankakee has been channelized and is boring (actually, double boring – a straight river and high banks) between Rt. 41 in Indiana and the state line. As you pass under the state line bridge, the river changes dramatically. I frequently paddle this stretch with my friend Don Browning. For a more interesting and challenging run, we sometimes paddle upstream and from Momence return when we are half-tired. Paddling upstream in good current presents a real challenge and takes teamwork as you try to find the right course around the bends.

As soon as you pass under the state line bridge (closed to traffic, and duck your head going under the bridge), the river bends and curves and is lined with trees. In fast water, you have to be aware of possible flow-throughs; in lower water, its sandbars coming out from the bank. There are a few homes and cottages along the bank, but for the most part, it is pretty open with tree lined banks. There are some backwaters you can explore. Deer can be seen in the woods and beaver signs on the bank.

At Momence, you take out to the right of the island; go to the left if you want to continue past the remains of a dam – pretty shallow, but not impossible with luck.

Below Momence, the river slows as the dam in Kankakee backs up the water. Scenery changes in a subtle way. The banks are more open, but not populated. Watch for the swans below Rt. 17 – they are pretty and territorial. There is a small store in Aroma Park (interesting name) to stop for a soda pop. Past McQueen’s Landing, where the Iroquois River joins the Kankakee, you may run into power boats and jet skis. You see more homes along the bank. About a block above the dam, there is a small park river left to take out and portage. Continue on to Bird Park just downstream.
From Bird Park to Werner Bridge (Kankakee State Park) is about 10 miles. This is the most popular canoe/kayak part of the river by far. High banks along some of this stretch make a change of scenery. Nice place for a leisurely cruise. From Warner Bridge to Wilmington you begin to see more civilization – a house, a farm. One morning just after we put in at the campground, we passed several islands covered with wild roses – breath-taking to say the least.

At Wilmington, you go river right – under the highway (Rt. 53) – then either end your trip at the park or portage. This is an old mill race. Get out before the small dam. Walk to the tip of the island to continue – but be careful – fast and tricky water.

The Des Plaines Conservation Area is river right after you pass under Rt. 55. The current becomes slower as you approach the confluence with the Des Plaines River. Paddle across the Illinois River above the dam for a take-out, with a rather steep bank. Walk along the bike path a hundred yards or so to the parking lot (McLinden Road off of Rt. 6) to get to the bike trail at Dresden (I&M Canal). Look across the road and you will see a barn used for the mules and horses when they pulled barges along the canal.

Access points: Rt. 41 in Indiana; state line road (don’t know if I would leave my car here, as it is very secluded and poor parking); Momence north side of the river; just before Rt. 17 on road along the river; Aroma Park; Rt. 45 Kankakee; Bird Park in Kankakee; Werner Bridge (State Park, camping); Wilmington; Des Plaines Conservation area; I&M Canal in Desden.

Reeds, in Kankakee, rents canoes, and there is a livery in Wilmington. I believe that Reeds has some camping areas not open to the general public.

Dams By Don Mueggenborg

Every year many people die because of low head dams. Above the dam, boaters may get too close to the dam and go over. Below the dam, fishermen wander too close to the dam and are sucked into the hydraulic. Many of us have dam stories – and we have all damned the dams at one time or another.

The dams are coming out or possibly being converted to a whitewater chute. The reason for the dams no longer exists – they have become obsolete. Removing them is healthier for the river and removes a potential danger spot (in many cases, the dams are in need of extensive repair.)

Dams had their uses when they were built. They were used to form a pool for a Mill Race. They were used to provide a ford across the river (e.g., Dam # 1 and Dam # 2 on the Des Plaines). They were used for recreation (e.g., swimming, canoeing, boating); in fact, you can still see the bolts that anchored a diving board above Dam # 2 on the Des Plaines. Dams were used for flood control. They were used for sanitation – sewage went directly into the river, and in low water, it was exposed to the air and smelled; dams kept the water level up and the stench down. Ryerson Dam was built so Ryerson’s horses could cross the river below the dam.

 Dam Removal:   dam1 before removaldam 1 removal

A considerable amount of dam removal has already, or will be occurring, on the Des Plaines River. Work is under way to remove Hollister Dam and Half-Day Dam. If not already completed, the dam in Des Plaines and Dam #4 on the Des Plaines River are scheduled for removal. Already removed on the Des Plaines River are a small dam in Lockport, Riverside Dam, Ryerson Dam, Dam # 1, and Dam # 2. The Des Plaines River should be dam-free by the end of the summer of 2015.

Other dam removal projects include the Carpentersville Dam on the Fox River – this is the latest dam removal announcement. The dam at north Batavia will be removed by nature, if it is not removed by man first (i.e., the dam south of Batavia on the Fox River). In addition, the dam has been removed from the West Branch of the DuPage River in Warrenville.

Dam Conversion to Whitewater

The dam in Yorkville has become a whitewater play park with an annual slalom race, and plans are being considered to build whitewater courses for several other dams. St Charles is considering a grand plan with several grades of whitewater chutes. There has been talk of a whitewater chute in Aurora (there is an attempt in place that was built several years ago, but it never was really functional). Rockford is also considering a whitewater chute on the Rock River (at present, it would require a long portage to get around the dam). Finally, Algonquin is also considering a whitewater conversion on the Fox River.

Good news.   Removing dams is safer – cutting the possibility of drowning and eliminating portages.   It is better environmentally for fish and for the flow of the rivers. Although the water level above the dam will drop, the water level below the dam rises.

The Vic Hopp Race starts at Dam # 1 on the Des Plaines River – go upstream and return. This year with the dam removed and low water level, we had one of the most interesting starts to a race that I have ever encountered. We were hitting bottom with our paddles, but the waves from all the boats tossed us this way and that. We would get a wave and shoot out ahead of a nearby boat only to be stuck behind another wave and have them pass. This was for the first several minutes of the race. Wish I could have said it pushed us to the front of the pack, but alas, that did not happened.