By Gary Swick, FOFR President
It has been said that folks in Illinois complain about the weather in every month but two, June and September. In June, the color show of flowers is in full force and the temperature and humidity levels are consistently pleasant. We made it through the last year, so let’s get outside and enjoy June! The daylight hours are longest in June and offer ample time to play outside.
The Fox River has abundant outdoor play areas. Thanks to visionaries in land preservation and tax dollar support, public open spaces are locally plentiful. The McHenry County Conservation District and the Kane, Lake, and Kendall County Forest Preserve Districts all have worked to secure riverfront property. Most of these spaces are open to the public and many have river access with boat launches, numerous shore fishing spots, toilet facilities, and picnic areas. Visit their websites for ideas of places to explore and details on the various facilities.
A Bounty of Boats
The northern portion of the Fox River in Illinois is known as the Chain O’Lakes. It has a rich history as a summer getaway and is famous for its recreational use. With 30,000 visitors on most summer weekends and 100,000 people on holidays, “The Chain” has the distinction as the “busiest inland recreational waterway per boat per acre in the United States.” The river is primarily used by power boats during those times but in the early morning it is busy with fishermen and a few brave paddlers. Two jewels among the bustle are the Chain O’Lakes State Park and Volo Bog State Natural Area which are outstanding for hiking and birding. The Chain O’ Lakes State Park offers camping, horseback riding, and access to three lakes.
Miles of Trails
Strolling and cycling are very popular along the Fox River. As part of the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy program, the Fox River Trail spans over 40 miles from Oswego to Algonquin and is managed by the Fox Valley Park District and the Kane County Forest Preserve District. The McHenry Conservation District manages the Prairie Trail from Algonquin to Wisconsin. For information in Wisconsin visit the Southeast Fox River Partnership. Luckily, many bicycle shops are conveniently located along the trail and offer repairs and rentals.
Fishing was already the most popular sport in Illinois before pandemic conditions led to record fishing license sales! A relatively inexpensive and a simple sport to participate in, fishing from the riverbank is safe and suitable for a solo or family outing. No need to invest in high-quality equipment or master techniques, for many people it is the quiet time spent that is of the highest value to them. And the fish are edible! The Fox River is much cleaner than when many advisories were established and in turn so are the fish, as stated by the Illinois Department of Public Health consumption advisories.
Paddling is Evolving
And then there is paddling. The first European explorers of this region used large canoes to carry the crews and the goods they traded or harvested, such as beaver pelts. The canoe has always been a very popular mode of enjoying the Fox River and now kayaks and paddleboards have joined the flotilla. The Fabulous Fox Water Trail is a Wisconsin/Illinois collaborative project with the National Park Service and the website has detailed information to enhance any paddle-trip planning and river use. Check with municipal and county district programs, retail stores and Friends of the Fox River for upcoming paddle trip opportunities.
The most easy, convenient, and inexpensive form of outdoor recreation is to wander. The Fox River watershed is incredibly rich in biodiversity and opportunities to be immersed in nature. Some are very active like boating and biking but to gain a deeper understanding of the natural world and receive the healing nature can offer requires a more passive approach. Sitting still and enjoying the sounds and sights is a form of recreation and it can begin in your yard or neighborhood park. The recognition and understanding of our connection to nature is vital to our well-being and the health of the Fox River.
June is Time to Celebrate
May gave us Mother’s Day and June gives us Father’s Day. This year Father’s Day is the same day as the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. It is especially significant as we may be emerging from this past year’s pandemic into the light at the end of the tunnel. There are many reasons to celebrate the ancient sacred time of the Summer Solstice. Fathers are often looked to for teaching life lessons and as beacons for moving forward. The two events together have very powerful messages for us.
Hurry, July is Coming
Please visit your welcoming friend the Fox River often this month. Allow the Fox River to be there for you so you may better understand why it needs you as a friend. Whatever your outdoor recreation methods or their locations within the watershed, make plans to get out there. Before you know it, you may be complaining about the heat of July.