By Tom Lindblade
Illinois Paddling Council President
Editor’s note: These remarks were delivered at the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District Board meeting Wednesday, June 20.
As President and Safety Chairman of the Illinois Paddling Council as well as a Rockford resident, I have been concerned about the misuse of the Kishwaukee River for some time. Several years ago, I spent a full Saturday teaching a paddling course at Espenshied. I observed an incredible variety of tubes and various other air-filled craft being launched. There were three factors in evidence, which caused me great concern.
1. A general lack of river knowledge and skill,
2. Heavy alcohol usage, and
3. Indifference to basic safety considerations such as the wearing of life jackets, particularly by small children.
The presence of these three factors seemed to me even then to be a recipe for disaster.
Since then, things have only gotten worse. Now, on major hot weather holidays, we are forced to add another factor, which is extreme overcrowding.
When all four of these factors are present, as was the case this past Memorial Day weekend, things can go very wrong very quickly.
We have been told of: officers being confronted by large groups of people, and then forced to retreat; the river almost blocked by people sitting in folding chairs, trucks in the river, trash everywhere, lewd behavior, public inebriation, and don’t forget last year’s alcohol-related death at Espenshied.
Statewide, most people are not aware that an alcohol-related death on the Vermilion River led to the closure of the river for almost three years until this April, by the local cement plant, or that alcohol and drugs were found to be a factor in the three deaths at Yorkville several years ago. I could go on.
After hearing accounts of what happened on Memorial Day weekend, it seems to me that we were very lucky and barely dodged a bullet this time.
Something must be done to reduce the extreme influence of trash and alcohol. It may not be necessary to ban it as such. I agree with what Frank Schier has suggested: a $500 fine for any littering (tipovers must be considered) with general refuse, bottles or cans, and a $500 fine for lewd, belligerent and drunken public behavior. In all fairness, warning tickets should be issued for this season (barring obvious needs for arrest), and these fines should be enforced next year. The power to arrest exists.
Finally, some effort must be made at crowd control. Every effort should be made to craft a comprehensive emergency crowd control plan for the Bauman Park/Atwood reach of the Kishwaukee. The absolute vehicle carrying capacity for each venue should be determined, and when it is reached, the venues should be closed, so that overcrowding cannot occur.
Thank you for your kind attention.
From the June 20-26, 2012, issue