Spring 2018 Conservationist

Paddling in the Preserves

by Ray Soszynski, Community Services & Education

Our group floats along Salt Creek as I demonstrate the steps of the forward stroke to the 12 first-time kayakers who are learning to propel themselves through the water. A chattering belted kingfisher flies inches above our heads. We’ve disturbed its hunting session. Halfway through the trip we rest our arms and let the current carry us past Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center on the western shore. I use the break to share details on the stone building, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps for use as a boathouse and used today by naturalists as a venue for programs on native plants and wildlife. We resume dipping alternating ends of our paddles in the water and continue our journey.

The Forest Preserve District has been offering introductory kayaking programs like this for a decade, and they’ve become some of its most popular experiences. Each includes the use of a kayak, paddle and personal flotation device; participants only need to bring sunscreen and shoes and clothes that can get wet.

To ensure everyone is comfortable and having fun, our American Canoe Association-certified instructors cover the basics on land before anyone launches. They explain the parts of a kayak and different models and cover what to bring on a trip, how to hold the paddle and execute strokes, and — most importantly — how to be safe. Only then do they demonstrate how to enter the kayak, launch from shore, and maneuver on the water, throwing in a game or two for added fun.

For me, these introductory programs are the most rewarding to lead. Ninety-five percent of participants have never navigated a kayak and are usually apprehensive, but after an hour on the water that anxiety is replaced with confidence, laughs and an amazement at how easy kayaking really is.

Many times instructors would finish a program and hear, “So what else do you offer?” which is why we created “Paddle With a Ranger.” These guided tours of the preserves are similar to Forest Preserve District nature hikes but take place on the water instead of the trails, occasionally on lakes not typically open to boating. Rangers not only talk about the history of the landscape but also help spot cameo appearances by resident wildlife. Recently, these tours have expanded to include day-long trips for intermediate paddlers along the West Branch DuPage River.

The next logical addition to the lineup became “Fishing by Kayak.” This twofold program not only gives paddlers an alternative way to enjoy their time on the water but also shows anglers a new way to fish. Several first-timers have reeled in some big catches on these trips!

Along the way we also started offering introductory programs by age, designing experiences just for kids, families, and adults over 18 or 50. While someone over 30 might not have a problem with paddling across an open lake, 7- and 8-year-olds may feel more comfortable sticking closer to shore.

If you’re eager to hit the water and don’t own a kayak, you can rent one at Blackwell or Herrick Lake by the hour (canoes and rowboats, too). Rentals include paddles and PFDs, and helpful employees provide rules and basic instructions before you launch. To keep up with demand, last year the Forest Preserve District started mobile rentals as well. With trailers fitted with racks and secure straps, rangers are able to bring gear to Hidden Lake, Wood Dale Grove and other forest preserves select weekends in summer.

So are you ready to hit the water? Look for spring programs under “Ways to Play” in our calendar and rental dates and fees for Blackwell and Herrick Lake on our boating page. And follow us this summer on Facebook @DuPageForest to see where our mobile rentals will be next! 

kayaking-iStockcomFamVeld.jpgBring Your Own

Have your own boat and looking for a place to put in? Certain watercraft with Forest Preserve District permits can float over select forest preserve lakes. Some forest preserves have canoe launches as well along both branches of the DuPage River and Salt Creek (no District permit required). 

For fees, rules, locations and other details, visit our boating pageImage iStock.com/FamVeld