RURAL OAKWOOD — While boaters haven't been allowed on the Middle Fork River most of this week, Todd Alcorn is crossing his fingers that the current conditions won't spill into the Fourth of July weekend.
"The water level started going up on Monday, but it's been going down ever since," said Alcorn, co-owner of Kickapoo Landing at Kickapoo State Park, which offers canoe, kayak and tubing trips on the river. "The forecast looks good. So by Friday, it should be back to normal, and we should have great water levels for canoeing."
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday closed the river to recreational boating from the north boundary at the Potomac City Park to the south boundary at the state park after a conservation police officer reported rising floodwaters and other hazards, spokesman Chris Young said. The ban remained in effect on Wednesday.
Young said severe storms also caused flooding and other problems in other parts of Illinois this week, prompting the department to close the visitors center and parking lot and trails at Starved Rock State Park, the equestrian trails at Franklin Creek State Natural Area and restroom facilities at William Powers State Recreation Area, among other places.
Staff are taking "every possible step" to get parks, campgrounds and trails open this weekend, Young said. He added power has been restored to most locations, and staff are busy cleaning up, cutting trees and making other repairs.
The department also lifted a boating ban on the Kankakee River on Wednesday morning.
Early Tuesday, the Middle Fork River level was reported at 5.65 feet with a discharge of 2,880 cubic feet per second.
"It's not just the high water levels that are a concern," Young said. "There are also dangerous currents and what we call strainers or trees and debris laying in the water that can create a strong current. People sometimes get their canoes caught sideways in the current, and they can slip underneath. There are also sharp turns in the course of the river that make it hazardous. We're concerned about all of those things together."
Alcorn also monitors the river conditions, rate of flow and water and air temperature on a daily basis to ensure that the Middle Fork is safe for his customers.
This spring, "it's been wonderful," he said, adding the ideal level for canoeing and kayaking is between 2 to 31/2 feet, and the ideal level for tubing is under 3 feet. "We've easily had 500 people per week. They come here from Chicago, Bloomington, Springfield, all over the state because we're one of the only places where you can rent canoes and kayaks."
Officials said river levels began to rise following last weekend's heavy rains in the north.
"When I got here at 9 o'clock on Monday, it was at 2 feet. By noon it was at 31/2," Alcorn said. "We didn't know where it was going to stop, so we didn't let anyone go out on Monday."
He said customers have still been able to boat on Clear Lake, the connecting Inland Sea and Long Pond.
Alcorn isn't too worried that the ban will continue and hurt business on Friday or throughout the weekend. He's still taking reservations for 13- and eight-mile canoe and kayak trips and 2-mile tubing trips.