Calling all Il Fox river paddlers...

-- Last Updated: Jul-01-12 11:49 AM EST --

I grew up along the lower stretches of this river (Yorkville) and paddled it a lot when I was a kid in the 60s. Paddled it again in 78 then moved north and haven't gone back because there's plenty of nice paddling closer to where I now live.

My question is, has anyone here paddled this river below Ayers landing (Wedron) lately? The reason I ask is that some old cronies who live upstream have invited me down and sound interested in doing the old run like we did as kids, though they have lives that preclude regular paddle outings and haven't gone all the way down themselves since we did it way back when.

When I was young we always used to portage the Dayton dam on river right. When I was there in 78 they'd put up a 10'high chain link fence blocking off the portage. We found a break where we could crawl under the fence and walked around to talk to somebody tending the dam, or really anybody "in the know", about how you were supposed to use the portage these days. Found out you weren't. Liability, fear of suits, insurance, etc. It was the best and safest carry, but illegal. Had to portage on river left - a pretty bad carry down slippery crumbly rock ledges as I recalled, but we'd do it if we had to.

Crossed the river above the dam and there found another chain link fence but this one had a gate, a buzzer, and a bunch of rather excitable dobermans behind it. We buzzed and eventually someone who seemed rather annoyed came out, put the dogs away, and let us have grudging access to the bad portage. He has the same concerns as the dam owners, but was a "smaller fish" and so had to allow us even though the risk of accident was greater on his land than on the dam's. The meeting was quite unlike most with real "river folks."
So all these years after the clean water act the river was cleaner but considerably less friendly. But now I'm gonna' give it another go for old time's sake.

So what's the deal down there these days? Is there a legal portage around the Dayton dam and, if so, on which side? Anyone paddled it recently? I've looked it up on a few sites and don't seem to find any info on this. So its "calling all paddlers" time... Will Illinois allow the old buds and I to do in our 60s what we did regularly in our teens, or does the river now effectively end at Wedron?

Advice? Suggestions? General Help?

The solution is in the IL legislature,
so there may be no hope. They need to mandate portage access, and release landowners from liability. But would they ever do that? No, they’re more interested in making every paddler register every boat, supposedly to protect people from theft.

Hadn’t even thought
of that… Last time I paddled at all in the state was maybe three years ago and I didn’t register anything - but maybe I was illegal… If boat registration is now required of out-of-staters, is there a different fee if you’re bringing in a boat to lend to in-staters?

I wouldn’t be too hard on the legislators… they’ve certainly done some things that are very right. Cleaning up the river for one thing. I guess people intentionally swim in it now. Back when I was a kid a paddling blister would almost certainly get infected if it got river water in it and you were an absolute lunatic if you swam in it on purpose. Apparently there’s some good fishing there now also.

And there’s a new man-made whitewater park at the Yorkville dam now, which I will certainly check out on this trip.

I hear access is restored to a run on the Vermillion R that was closed by a dam for a while…

So I do hold out some hope for the Dayton dam portage also… Its been a long while since 78 and perhaps that little problem was solved a long time ago. I just don’t know and probably ought to find out before I get there.

I sure don’t want to hassle any landowners either… especially out of ignorance of the current situation.

And island camping… is it still legal on unposted land below the high water mark?

I’ve done the Vermillion, back before
the avalanche changed Wildcat and the cement company got defensive about their dam. My impression is that visiting boaters are supposed to register their boats, but chances are you can ignore it and play dumb if a DNR guy bothers you.

The dam needs to be notched or removed. But getting that to happen isn’t easy.

No visitor boat registration required in

But, if registration is required in the state that the boat and paddler reside in, the boat needs to be registered in the state of residence.

I don’t have answers to any of the other questions.

That’s an evil little twist.
It certainly is not the business of the State of Illinois to consider whether a boat is registered in its home state. In fact, there is no requirement that a boat be registered in a home state, unless it is used in a home state.

I grew up in Illinois. I wonder if it has doomed me to dementia.

The news is in…
The portage at Dayton dam is again on river right and operational, according to a conservation officer who claims to have done it two weeks ago. No need for legislative action.

People are still camping on islands below high water mark. Many of these are privately owned, unposted, uninhabited, and the owners don’t seem to mind. This according to the owner of a livery down there.

No need to register boats. Thanks David.

So the “river of my youth” is by these accounts looking as good or better than it was all those years ago - unless its been turned into a “party river” or turns out to be over-developed. We’ll see soon enough.