It’s open — the Vermilion River dam

By Tom Lindblade

I visited the opening ceremony for the Vermilion today. All of the local officials and a number of DNR bigwigs were there, including Marc Miller, DNR director, Arlen Juhl, from the Office of Water Resources and, State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.

I did have an opportunity to discuss recent concerns about the proposed new Paddling Pass system with Miller. Miller assured me our concerns about state-to-state reciprocity and the cost for canoe livery outfitters would be addressed. He said these are details that are handled once legislation has passed and that he felt certain they could address them to our satisfaction at that point.

The rest of the morning provided an object lesson in why our registration fees amount to an incredible bargain for us. The Vermilion lease arrangement is absolutely unique, and would not have been done under previous administrations. Having a paddler and former member of the IPC Board as DNR director has made an incredible difference.

The last piece of icing on today’s cake is that I had noticed some major work being done on the southwest side of the Ed Hand bridge. For those of you not familiar with the Vermilion River, the bridge is the take out point for the rapids section of the river, and is a notoriously steep and dangerous take-out with large trucks speeding across the bridge as boaters load their vehicles on the bridge shoulders. In an almost totally unpublished project, the DNR is building a new access that traverses the high valley bank down to the river. My estimate is that there will be parking for at least 50 cars, and more than adequate space to pick up rafts and boats. All of the grading is done, and it looks like all that is left is paving the road, seeding and landscaping. It could be complete in a few weeks. All of this for a modest increase in my boat sticker fees, and a $35 yearly pass to the state parks, are costs that, I for one, will happily pay.

News release from Illinois DNR:

IDNR restores public access on Vermilion River in LaSalle County — Vermilion River section had been closed for dam safety modifications

Oglesby, Ill. — Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Director Marc Miller joined State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, at a ceremony today to officially reopen a portion of the Vermilion River for public recreation.

In the summer of 2009, a nearly 3-mile section of the river was closed at the request of Buzzi Unicem USA while an agreement between the IDNR and the Pennsylvania-based cement company was crafted and while subsequent safety modifications were made to the privately-owned low head dam on the river.

This is a great day for the citizens of LaSalle County and for everyone who enjoys paddling and rafting. This stretch of the Vermilion River is widely regarded as the best location for whitewater rafting and paddling in the state. I want to also thank Buzzi Unicem and Rep. Mautino for their efforts to make this day possible,” said Miller. “By entering into this state lease with Buzzi Unicem, the IDNR took innovative action to work with a private landowner to successfully open access to the recreating public. We are happy to be a part of restoring public access to an improved Vermilion River.”

I am very pleased to announce that this section of the Vermilion River will now be open to the people of Illinois and visitors to our state who enjoy spending time on the water,” said Rep. Mautino. “The Vermilion River is a beautiful waterway and a tremendous resource for our Illinois River Valley communities in the state of Illinois. I would like to acknowledge the hard work of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, IDNR Director Marc Miller, and Buzzi Unicem. Thanks to the dedication of all parties involved, those who love spending time outdoors can enjoy the Vermilion River and the recreation opportunities it provides.”

The lease agreement reached between the IDNR and Buzzi Unicem USA in November 2010 provides that company ownership of the river continues while allowing the IDNR the right to reopen the river to public access for paddling and rafting recreation.

A Buzzi Unicem spokesman said: “Buzzi Unicem USA appreciates the IDNR’s cooperative efforts to make this beautiful natural resource available for the safe use and enjoyment of the people of Illinois. We thank Director Marc Miller and all of the IDNR staff that worked on this project for their tireless efforts to protect and preserve the natural resources of the state, to ensure the river’s continued availability for safe access, and for their diligent oversight and protection of the river against misuse. The company also expresses its appreciation to Rep. Frank Mautino for marshaling the necessary resources and for his substantial work toward making this opening day a reality. We hope that the paddling community will both treasure the use of this resource and protect it against misuse and abuse through a campaign of educating the river’s users about the safe and proper use of this outstanding resource.”

Pursuant to the lease, the IDNR Office of Water Resources oversaw safety modifications at the low head dam to reduce the risk of objects becoming trapped under the water due to the force of the current flowing over the dam.

IDNR staff also installed various warning devices such as buoys and signs upstream and downstream of the dam.

The public should note that the river area at, below and above the low head dam has been designated as a restricted area under Illinois Administrative Rule. The only legal access over the low head dam is to the river right, which is the right side of the river looking downstream. The restricted area is marked with hanging buoys.

Now that the river is reopened, the public is once again legally able to navigate this portion of the river. The IDNR reminds all recreational users that whitewater, rapids and dams of all types are inherently dangerous. Public awareness of the area and what is ahead is imperative to personal safety.

For information, contact Chris McCloud at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources,

From the April 4-10, 2012, issue

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