Guest Column: Adventure in Rockford

Guest Column: Adventure in Rockford

By Allen Penticoff

So often we travel far away to explore, recreate, and just plain get out of town, but adventure is available right here in the Rock River Valley. Not only are there many fine parks and preserves with terrain challenges of all sorts, but our rivers also provide a quick getaway comparable to anywhere else.

The two best things about local exploration are that it is free and it takes little time. A spare couple of hours on a weekend or evening can thoroughly break up your routine.

Ruth and I explore the parks on foot and bicycle, but like exploring the rivers in our yellow plastic kayaks best. We prefer individual kayaks to a two-person model because we enjoy observing the other person in their kayak and we each have an adventure of our own as we meet the rivers’ challenges.

So far, we’ve explored the Rock River from Auburn Street to Byron and the Kishwaukee River from Cherry Valley to its mating with the Rock near the airport. We’ve also explored every nook and cranny of Pierce Lake. We’re no athletes, so we paddle these waters in sections. Each section has its own personality and surprises. Weather and water level always change your interaction with the experience, so doing the same section repeatedly is always a different adventure. Low water times are the most fun as sand bars are exposed and small rapids appear. It is also safer, as the water is slow and one can stand up in much of the water. Often the challenge is staying off the bottom. This involves reading the river to find water deep enough to float through. This is where plastic hulls come in—they tolerate groundings and abuse well, a frequent occurrence. Don’t worry about “rolling” a kayak; the recreational models are very stable. Besides, if you did manage to tip yours over, stand up and get back in.

Pack a lunch, stop on a remote beach, sandbar or island and revel in the fact that you are a handful of miles from a major city, yet there are no other humans or signs of them about. There are beautiful bluffs and cozy coves out there. Wildlife is at home with you and is in remarkable abundance along our rivers.

The only downside to this exercise is that usually two vehicles are required. But this is not a huge problem as most of us are two-vehicle families anyway. There are one-vehicle adventures, though, so don’t let that deter you from those days or pleasant evenings when only you can or want to paddle alone.

Most riverfront parks have canoe launch areas as well as a number of convenient boat ramps. In a pinch, you can scramble down a bank if need be. An “Illinois Atlas & Gazetteer” ($20 at most sporting goods stores and book sellers) is helpful in finding launch areas and determining distances. Six miles by kayak at a leisurely pace takes about two hours.

So save yourself the agony of a long highway trip— yourself a canoe, kayak, inner tube or flat bottom boat and enjoy our own watery recreation resources.

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