Stream Access in Illinois

Yesterday I discovered a new gate and posts with “No Trespassing” signs erected at the Pole Cat bridge access on Salt Creek between Lincoln and Middletown.

I wouldn’t have thought much of it except for similar recent appearances of gates and signs at accesses I have been using on Salt and Sugar Creeks for the past 15 years.

I am left wondering if there is not some organized effort locally involved in this. There have been a couple of drownings on Salt Creek in the past several years. And where public access has been “allowed” the locals often trash the sites and tear up the roads. And then too, I have been told by a local land owner with whom I was reaffirming my permission for access, that the land he was farming had been sold to some big investment firm for retiree accounts and that they informed him that access was to be denied to everyone, including himself. Even he could not hunt it anymore.

And I can’t help but feel that there are some industrial agricultural interests that just aren’t comfortable with having some discerning eyes out there on “their” water. Or maybe that is just my paranoid alienation at work on my head.

Any paddlers in Illinois experiencing similar incidents on your local streams?

That doesn’t bode well for river rats.
I haven’t been on any rivers this year, so I don’t have any pertinent recent info to add. I do know that about 4 years ago a popular put in on the Salt Fork of the Vermillion was blocked by the owner.

Your concerns are probably well founded and not paranoia.

Partiers who trash things up will definitely result in blocked access to such areas. They screw things up for everyone.

Liability is always a concern in these days of litigation at the drop of a hat. Some put ins are slippery or steep and are an accident waiting to happen.

Then Too
There are the deer hunters. Particularly those who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for timbered land along the rivers with expectations of glory for hanging monster racks in their trophy dens. It is no wonder they might be especially possessive about their land and deer (and look unfavorably on those who recreate for free on their water). This concern might even extend to their neighbors’ adjoining properties on which access might have once been gained and now is lost – “hey,would you please post your land and keep these freeloaders away from my property?” Sensitive to their interests, during archery deer season I do try to stay off the creeks during the early morning and evening prime hunting hours to avoid this kind of conflict. Even seeing my truck parked near the bridges might set them off – who is screwing with my deer?

Jeez, can’t help but feel some closing in here. It just keeps getting harder to trespass, even legally. No country for old boys, here in the corn/soybean and big-assed-buck factory.

Things are changing…
and not for the better. As more and more rich people buy up stream front property, they are more and more trying to shut off access, even to streams that have traditionally been used by the public as a matter of course. And because they tend to have undue influence in county and state governments due to their wealth and position, they are succeeding. I would bet that, if you compared the number of stream miles accessible to the public today with the accessible miles 20-40 years ago, you’d see a very disturbing trend.

I own riverfront property on two very popular rivers, and I bought it with the understanding that I was going to have to share the water with the public, and even put up with the occasional idiot who wandered onto my dry land and littered or worse. You would think that anybody who buys riverfront property would go into it with that realization, but many think, with apparent well reason, that they can keep people off. And the mishmash of ambiguous state laws encourages that. At some point, we river users, including paddlers, anglers, liveries, campgrounds, and other businesses that cater to river users, are going to have to band together and work very hard to get the laws to state unambiguously that we have the right to use these waters. If we don’t, we will be relegated to a handful of state or federally owned and managed waterways, or have to pay large amounts of money for access to other streams.

with your prescription for needed actions by those river interest groups. It could be most effective in preserving your current stream laws in MO where large numbers of outdoor enthusiasts use the streams. However, considering the smaller number of stream enthusiasts particularly in downstate IL, the current archaic stream laws (land owners own to the middle of the stream or the entire stream if they own both sides of the streams – which could allow them to prohibit trespass on all streams other than the 30 or so river stretches designated as navigable), and the very reactionary nature of downstate legislators mostly aligned with dominant agricultural interests, it is very unlikely that river users could ever mount an effective campaign to change stream laws here. Adding to this dire prognosis is the dysfunctional state of IL government.

Illinois streams main function is the flushing of capital and resources downstream. Kind of symbolic of the American way.

Have you tried
contacting the Illinois Paddling Council? Salt Creek is a pretty popular stream and there are probably some IPC folks who are up on the local issues on that waterway. They are as influential a paddling advocacy group as I know of in Illinois. I believe they were successful in restoring paddling access on the Vermilion River fairly recently. Perhaps they could help or at least provide current info on what’s going on along salt Creek as well.

for your advice. I should have clarified before – there are at least two Salt Creeks in Illinois. The one you refer to is in NE Illinois. It is a popular paddling destination. The one I referred to is in central IL and drains into the Sangamon River.

IPC is very active in the NE region of IL and has served paddler interests up there quite well. They did help to regain trespass rights from the industrial company that closed the Vermillion river following a drowning that occurred on their property at the site of a low dam.

Not just IL
I’ve seen it up here in the Northeast as well - private interests posting land that was previously acessable or putting up gates. Partying and littering is usually the problem. I know of one put-in near me where the town couldn’t limit access to the river, but they did put up “No Parking” signs on the street that that had the same effect.

Dearth of Recreational Opportunity
Particularly for the poorer inhabitants of rural America at least in these parts of Illinois there is a great dearth of public land for recreation. Related, there is also a dearth of land ethics accompanied with a corruption of social and cultural values that tend to be expressed by the local youths especially in the trashing or roadsides, painting of lewd graffiti on bridges, and wild partying and trashing at bridge access sites. The combination has been enough for local officials to make some of these sites less accessible to paddlers and for paddlers themselves to be leery of leaving their vehicles parked at these dystopian gathering places. Puts a whole different slant on “going to the dark side” to get to the bright side. Not the greatest prescription for growing the paddling sports.

Just one more reason
to pick up other people’s trash when paddling. At least at put-in points you don’t have to paddle with it all day to get it out like you do if its on an island or beach along the river.

I suspect that trash, if that’s the argument that’s being used, is more an excuse than a real reason for land owners closing off access points, though.

And if roadside parking is the issue, isn’t that public land anyhow? Thirty feet from the center line is the rule here for public right-of-way and three feet off the road is the requirement to park. Its got nothing to do with the land owners. That’s why you aren’t prosecuted for trespassing if you break down on the road. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but since I was a kid I’ve always thought and acted on the notion that public right-of-way makes any bridge a legal public access of sorts as long as you don’t venture more than 30 ft from the center line. (Though many bridges are impracticable access points due to steepness, rip rap, and such.)

I suspect it has more to do with insurance concerns - I’ve seen (and in Illinois, actually) chain link fences put up along the shore around dams that require a much longer portage than is necessary (or safer) which, according to operators I’ve spoken with, are to assuage the concerns of insurers. Perhaps the same concerns are now being planted in the minds of riverside land owners as well as dam owners/operators?

Or maybe the landowners are just being hard-nosed about it… lot of that going around lately.

let this be a reminder that if you paddle rivers, you should be a member of American Whitewater. They have done a lot of work to maintain and open access to rivers.

is it on private property

– Last Updated: Oct-06-16 10:04 AM EST –

...or within the road right of way, or inside a utility easement? A quick look at plat maps would shed some light.

If it's a private property owner I can't blame them, purely for liability reasons. If it's publicly held (or the private owner is agreeable) I'd petition for an access easement.

Sometimes exploring a solution with the property owner results in a surprise, and it can't hurt.

whenever I read this stuff I just feel

– Last Updated: Oct-06-16 11:56 AM EST –

fortunate. Access issues are pretty minimal in southern wv. I can find a wide spot and park my car and folks pretty much leave me alone. Most of the popular runs have public access and in less popular areas people are generally friendly. Paddling, specifically ww rafting, is an economic engine in the local economy. I think that helps as well.

Last night, I met homeless couple camping in the parking lot of a local trail head. I still left my car and hiked. Car wasn't bothered, I gave them some bottled water before heading home.

A few local issues that have cropped up in the last few years- someone posted no trespassing signs next to a bridge right of way (Russelville) after boaters changed clothes in front of their house. Fortunately, for other boaters there are other places to take out nearby.

An over zealous Dept. of Natural Resource worker was not letting folks run Kanawha falls for several years. This got changed by bringing the issue up at the state's ww commission meeting. I suspect one reason why WV has pretty good access is because we do have a state ww commission to work on issues.

I believe there is a general culture of sharing land and stream use among wv residents. Private hunting clubs lease land from mine and timber interests and they will post and gate their land. Active timber and mining areas also understandably restrict access but most other lands are "shared".

In fact, as more land is bought by out of staters, my perception is that the land is more likely to be posted for no trespassing. You see this more in the northern and eastern panhandles of the state.

So I've got it pretty good. I can go just about anywhere within 100 miles home, find a wide spot or public access, put in or take out for free. The only real exception are the army corp boat ramps on lakes. Some of them have seasonal day fees for using the launch but you at least still have lake access.

Hope things don't change, I really like the status quo. Overall I view the National park Service's involvement on the "New and Gauley National River" as a positive. I just hope the suits in charge don't screw it up at some point.

So I'm less afraid of the beer drinkin' graffiti partiers and more afraid of the out of state land owners and the politicians. I hope nobody tries to fix what ain't broken.

Or do a shoreline search using
Google Maps. Up here in the north woods I look for roads which end at the water’s edge, then zoom in to see if there’s room to park. I save the coordinates and on a rainy day, recon the sites. Have found some nice launch sites. Sometimes it’s a tiny township access. Sometimes it’s unmarked. I leave no footprints.

Highway departments…
are notorious for shutting off access at bridges, often at the behest of local landowners who have money and influence in the county governments. Yes, theoretically you should be able to use a bridge as an access as long as there is parking space off the road, but whenever a new bridge is built, the highway department usually makes sure there ISN’T a place to park. And highway departments also block parking areas at established bridge crossings, or put up no-parking signs. There is a fine little stream near where I live in the Missouri Ozarks, with a wonderful ten mile float from one bridge crossing to the next. Except the land around the take-out was bought up a number of years ago by a rich landowner. First, the landowner tried to close off access at that bridge, but the signs and the fence he put up beneath the bridge was ignored. So he put up different signs, saying that you had to have a fishing license to use the stream there, apparently trying to reduce the party crowd, at least. At that point I didn’t have too much of a problem with it, because I DID have a fishing license and I knew it was a popular place for partying, with all the litter and vandalism problems that entailed. But finally he was able to find (or fund) and friendly county government, resulting in the county posting the very ample parking area along the right of way with a myriad of no-parking signs.

Different states
and probably different counties within a state do differ.

Here in Wisconsin there are usually improved put-ins at major river crossings, as on the Lower Wisconsin. Smaller rivers and creeks are not as convenient, but I often see fishermen parked on the roadside by bridges and don’t recall ever seeing one that’s posted or blocked off, though there may be some.

In Iowa, on the Maquoketa, Turkey, and Upper Iowa, there are sometimes mowed paths down to the water next to bridges but not much other improvement.

Back when I paddled regularly in N. Illinois (a LONG time ago) there weren’t any improvements near bridges but I never had a problem parking beside the county roads (gravel back then) and sliding a boat down to the river. I don’t recall hearing about anyone else being hassled for doing so either - but, alas, apparently things are changing, at least on Salt Cr.

No doubt the partiers hurt our cause and provoke landowners ire. (They might arouse mine if it were next to my property, come to think of it.)

Perhaps too much popularity by paddlers and perceived over use does also. When I was young in Illinois there were very few folks who paddled. Roadside crowding was never a problem and neither were surly landowners.

In Mo. the typography may be a problem as well - a lot of the bridges are quite high, the shoulders narrow and steep, and the banks high. A person really could get hurt trying to load or unload next to some that I’m thinking of - perhaps safety and liability is a legitimate concern at some of those bridges.

But I still think that fear of liability, litigation, and an overly developed sense of ownership rights (extending beyond what’s actually owned) drives these landowners to this craziness. Hope the fever passes sometime soon.

Paddlers aren’t the problem
I think paddlers are pretty good about litter. Fishermen on the other hand are real slobs. At popular fishing spots it’s pretty typical to find cig/cigar buts, beer/liquor bottles, coffee cups, bait containers and worse. Eventually it all ends up in the river and floating downstream. But fishermen are also interested in maintaining river access, so in some respects they are our allies. I don’t think there is much liability from paddlers or fishermen.

Once kids start partying on your property though that is a different story. You need to do something about that or you will end up getting sued

Not concerned about trespassing
concerned my car won’t be there when I get back because it got towed.

some people don’t think beyond their nos

– Last Updated: Oct-07-16 9:15 AM EST –

Classifying people as slobs by group isn't really an accurate portrayal IMO. I've seen slob paddlers and conscientious fisherman, slob triathletes and conscientious casual trail-walkers. Slobs don't care about anything other than their own convenience; this is why you find more litter at easily accessible spots.

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