Up a creek? There's plenty of paddles nearby

Up a creek? There's plenty of paddles nearby

It can be cool and breezy even on the hottest days when you're on the water. While you won't see many boats on the Boneyard — though you should check out the Boneyard Yacht Club — there are a number of lakes and rivers in the area where you can rent a canoe, kayak, tubes or pedal boats or bring your own. Staff writer PAUL WOOD offers some places where you can rent a watercraft, or even get lessons.

Champaign County Forest Preserve District

The district offers access to the Sangamon River at Lake of the Woods in Mahomet and River Bend Forest Preserve south of Mahomet, as well as the Salt Fork near Homer Lake.

"There is no canoe launch within the Middle Fork River Preserve. But people do canoe the river as there are some good spots to put in on private lands. But the river depth is highly variable depending on the amount of rain we get, so the quality of the trip can fluctuate in kind," said Mary Ellen Wuellner, the district's deputy executive director.

Marketing manager Lisa Sprinkle said rentals of pedal boats, kayaks and rowboats are available through Labor Day Weekend at Lake of the Woods.

Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. The cost is $6 per half-hour. The boat peninsula is located at 101 N. Lake of the Woods Road, at the intersection of Tin Cup Road and Lake of the Woods Road.

On July 15, the district offers Canoeing For Beginners lessons at Walnut Hill Boat Launch in Homer Lake Forest Preserve.

There are classes from 9 to 11 a.m. or 1 to 3 p.m.

After learning the basics of canoeing and water safety, there's a canoe caravan around Homer Lake. All equipment will be provided; water and sunscreen is recommended.

The minimum age to participate is 8 years old; an adult must accompany children under 18.

The class costs $8 per person, or $4 if you bring your own canoe. Space is limited, said Chelsey Walsh, the public program specialist.

You can reserve a spot at ccfpd.org, or by calling 217-896-2455 or emailing cwalsh@ccfpd.org.

No Wimp Trips

Mike and Anja Metz have been leading local canoe and kayak trips for the Champaign Ski and Adventure Club for over 20 years. They've been collecting boats for a long time, own 11 canoes and kayaks and can outfit about a dozen people for river trips.

"We only lend boats for trips we are running, but there is no charge for usage or for us hauling the boats. We also have many club members who own their own boats, and other friends who join us too," he said. "We do this totally for fun, meeting new friends and promoting our group and outdoor enjoyment."

A typical trip is the Middle Fork from Higginsville Bridge to Kickapoo State Park, about a dozen river miles.

"Anyone who needs a boat is directed to contact me by e-mail or phone and by a certain time. My wife and I go to my house in Urbana before breakfast and load the needed amount of boats, and then go to breakfast," he said. "Some people join us for breakfast while others choose to just show up by the leaving time. Carpooling is encouraged."

After they run a shuttle of vehicles, "we put in our boats on the river. Everyone is helpful and friendly and we have a lead boat and a last boat, that is called the 'sweep.' The sweep makes sure we leave nobody behind. The lead boat makes sure there are no impassable obstacles on the river," he said.

For more information, email the Metzes at nowimptrips@gmail.com or call 217-417-9595.

Champaign Park District

Champaign's big water attraction is Sholem Aquatic Center, 2205 Sangamon Drive, which can be rented for corporate clients, birthday parties, church outings or family reunions.

For less structured times, Kaufman Lake, Heritage Park and Mattis Lake all allow canoes, said Chelsea Norton, director of marketing and communications.

"We allow canoes on certain properties as long as they are registered with the (Illinois Department of Natural Resources), but no longer rent them out," she said.

Vermilion County Conservation District

The district allows canoes on the river and electric motors on Willow Creek Pond at Forest Glen Preserve near Georgetown.

At Kennekuk County Park, about 5 miles west of Danville at 22296 Henning Road, there's a concrete canoe launch and access lane on the Middle Fork National Scenic River and electric motors only at Twin Points. On Lake Mingo, there are fees for small power bats and sailboats.

Lake Vermilion County Park, 2607 Denmark Road, also has some fees, and a wide variety of watercraft allowed, including power boats, Jet Skis, water skiing and tubing, sailboats, and pontoon boats. Canoeing is allowed on the north end of the lake. Canoe access is also available near the bridge at Heron County Park.

Kickapoo Adventures

Boat rentals are back at Kickapoo State Recreation Area near Oakwood on Clear Pond.

Kickapoo Adventures offers canoeing, kayaking or tubing on the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.

Illinois' only National Scenic River truly can be an adventure, said Kickapoo Adventures' new owner, Tom Monahan. Rains were swelling the river a couple of weeks before the service went to seven days a week for the summer.

"Weather was a concern for a little while," he said. But the river is now at a good level, he added.

Off the water, there are also mountain bikes for rent.

Launch the canoes or kayaks at Kinney's Ford Canoe Access, or from the Kennekuk County canoe-access ramp. Rentals range from $25 to $50.

Kickapoo Adventures also offers lessons. For kayaks, that includes entering and launching; trim, posture and balance; and forward, turn and draw strokes.

Urbana Park District

"We rent canoes, but we also have plenty of people who bring their own kayaks and canoes to paddle Crystal Lake," said Community Program Manager Janet Soesbe.

In the future, she said, the district could look at offering lessons.

Soesbe said her favorite water spot is Crystal Lake.

"I've been supervising the staff at the Lake House since 2007 and I never get bored on our lake," she said. "I always see something new, whether it's a green heron, a giant catalpa tree or a black rat snake sunning itself on a log. Once the lake rehab project is complete in a few years, it's going to be spectacular."Canoes rent for $7 a half-hour and $9 an hour. The canoe capacity is two adults and one child, no more than 550 pounds altogether.

"We are the busiest when it's in the 70s or 80s," she said. "On a lovely day, we can have every paddle boat out and a wait list. Our busiest days are Saturdays and Sundays, usually."

Boneyard Yacht Club

For this one, it helps to be a civil engineer. In 1971, a University of Illinois professor challenged his concrete design class to build a canoe made of concrete. The Boneyard Yacht Club is part of the Great Lakes Student Conference, has qualified for six national competitions and had a best finish of fourth.

Engineering student Karly Bast is a veteran of the competitions, which are not for lightweights: A canoe weighs about 300 pounds, so gaining momentum is difficult, she said.

"Our team designs, constructs, casts and races our own canoe," Bast said, and one of the most satisfying things for her was the team-building itself.

This year, a change in the rules for the concrete mix tripped up the yacht club, and it finished sixth in the conference.

But the year before it finished third, just out of the running for the nationals, she said. Bast loved the experience on the lagoon of Washington Park in Chicago.

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