The Fabulous Fox Water Trail

By Art Malm, P.E., FOFR Director art malm 2012 photo v2

The Fabulous Fox Water Trail will open the adventure and beauty of our Fox to residents and visitors of the Fox River Valley like never before.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

It is hard to really know when I started loving our Fox. For decades it’s been the river I’ve crossed on my way to and from work. It is the source oflower fox - by b mcdonald my hometown’s water supply. And it’s a silent companion to the bike trail that runs near its shores. The Fox was always nearby. Its need for restoration and protection was clear. But loved? Too strong a word.

A few years back I pulled my old Klepper kayak out of the garage loft. It had been gathering dust for decades. Now retired with kids long gone, I wanted to see if the old hull could still shed water. That was when I got to know the Fox River for its beautiful stretches between Elgin to Algonquin.

I began putting in at Voyagers Landing, Fox River Shores, and Cornish Park just south of the Algonquin dam. The birds, the fishing, the wildflowers, and the silence along this stretch of the river made me love the Fox. Elgin to Algonquin was my Fox River. That’s the only stretch I knew. It is good and I love it.

Paddling the Entire River!

charlie and chuck

Last year two Aurora area kayakers, Charlie Zine and Chuck Roberts, paddled the entire length of the Fox. This 200-mile trip ran the river from its source near Waukesha to its confluence with the Illinois near Ottawa. Tales of that trip taught me our Fox had a lot more to share than just my beautiful ‘home’ reach between Elgin and Algonquin.

Charlie Zine spent nearly 12 years preparing for that trip. He traced the river back to its source, a forested wetland near Colgate, Wisconsin. He researched how to negotiate its early stretches through the farmlands and golf courses of southern Wisconsin. He and Chuck located take-outs for meals and overnights. They found where to safely portage around the many dams. That’s a lot of effort for one or two kayakers!

It’s Getting Better All the Time

Things just got a lot easier. The National Water Trails System (NWTS) is a collaborative effort administered by the National Park Service, between public and private organizations, to identify and document exemplary water trails on rivers, lakes and other waterways throughout the United States. The overall purpose of the NWTS is to increase public access and to protect and restore the waters, shorelines, and natural areas along these waterways.

nwts logo combinedSeveral years ago the idea to earn the National Water Trail (NWT) designation for our Fox began to take hold. Since then a growing group of Wisconsin and Illinois supporters led by the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and the Fox River Ecosystem Partnership started work to make this dream a reality.

It is pretty clear that Charlie and Chuck’s appetite for planning and adventure is well beyond most of us mortals. The thought of having our Fox River designated as a National Water Trail with maps and guidance to safely prepare for river trips, and be able to appreciate its many wondrous stretches, is pretty attractive.

Getting From Here to There

map 12Here’s what makes the Fabulous Fox Water Trail effort to be a National Water Trail so appealing. To qualify for NWT status access points must be open to public use, and designed, constructed, and maintained according to best management practices. The trail must be consistent with all environmental laws and land use plans, with its designation supported by landowners, public or private, on which access points exist. It must accommodate a diversity of trip lengths and provide for educational, recreational, and conservation activities. A NWT designation requires the public to have accessible and understandable water trail information, including descriptions of the cultural, historic, and natural features (as well as hazards) along the way. To achieve NWT status takes quite a bit more work.

The Fox’s NWT designation is a work in progress. Through the efforts of many people, organizations, and communities, and in coordination with the National Park Service there is already a single portal through which we can find and share information to plan a trip anywhere along our Fox.

A Fabulous Website!

The brand new Fabulous Fox Water Trail website ( is a great source of information for access sites, online and printable maps and itineraries. The website covers the entire length of the river from the Fox’s headwaters north of Waukesha, to its confluence with the Illinois at Ottawa. Most importantly the website will continue to grow, extending its breadth and depth of information for residents and visitors alike.

As a designated National Water Trail, our Fox’s reputation will begin to match the beauty and bounty all along its shoals and shores. Our Fox is a priceless natural resource that has tragically been under-appreciated too long by far too many. Each segment of our river has unique mix of characteristics, from natural shallow riffles and pools with abundant wildlife to deep water lakes and historic urbanized channels. With NWT status our view of and experiences with the river will no longer be limited to our own local segments. More importantly, the beauty of the entire river will be opened to the many whose view of our Fox today is limited to its often neglected urban shoreline.

Use the trail, and support the effort to complete the National Water Trail designation for our Fox. Never overlook the fact that with every new visitor whose interest is awakened by The Fabulous Fox Water Trail, our ability to protect, nurture and love our Fox River can only grow.