Last year, when we took whitewater kayak lesson in Wausau, it got me excited about paddling, but the same Midwest problem reared its head: nowhere to go. Wausau’s whitewater is 4 hours away, not an easy commute by any means, and it only runs when the dam water is released, so the schedule has to work as well. A closer option we’ve yet to explore is the East Race Waterway in South Bend, IN, at only about 2 hours away, but it’s also only open weekends, so that limits its usability. So it was pretty awesome to discover the Marge Cline Whitewater Course in Yorkville, which is about an hour away from our home.
Located in downtown Yorkville, the whitewater course is a channel that was created to bypass a dam that was deemed too dangerous to remain as it was. Access to the park is really simple: park (free), walk to the put-in (free), and drop your boat in the water (free). There is a paddling shop, Yak Shack, which abuts the course, so you can purchase or rent equipment as desired.
As I surmised, this is not a hardcore whitewater park (this IS only 50 miles from Chicago after all). At around 1100′ long, it’s roughly half of the East Race (around 2090′ long) or the Wausau Whitewater Park (around 1930′ long). Originally designed to be a canoe-bypass and fish ladder, a couple of playspots were added to the design. The design originally called for 2 channels, a simpler option for canoes and beginner kayakers, and a more difficult for those more experienced. When I visited, the high water level had obscured most of the features, though it was still possible to see where they were.
Ultimately, this is not a destination for serious paddlers looking for maximum thrills. However, for those of us living in Chicagoland, for beginners, and for those who want practice on something tamer that is open year-round (dependent on weather and water flow), this is a great resource. Getting some practice in before heading to more serious venues is always a good idea.
There is an annual Illinois Whitewater Festival held here in the middle of July, in conjunction with a “Ribs on the River” event, so even if you’re not interested in paddling yourself, head there to watch the boaters, eat good food, and listen to music. Not a bad way to spend a Summer’s day.