50 Things to do on the Sangamon River

A friend recently posted on her Facebook that she received the book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” from her husband as a Christmas present. She’s now anticipating the exotic worldwide travel that surely must be in her future.

I haven’t read this particular book, but it presumably includes the usual suspects: the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, the Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu. You know, that sorta thing. And I thought, really? Anyone could come up with a list like that. And besides, she lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, Mount Ranier, the Olympic National Forest, the Pacific Coast and more. There must be 1000 places to see right in her own backyard, or at least nearby. And then I thought: what about right here? So I challenged myself.

Coming up with 1,000 places to see around the world? No problem. 1,000 places around Seattle? Also not too much of a problem. But perhaps a more interesting challenge would be coming up with 1,000 places to see right here where I live, or at least 50. And so without further ado, I now present the 50 Places to See On The Sangamon River Before You Die:

  1. The Covered Bridge over the Sangamon at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve (if you can’t check this one off the list, you may want to seriously consider getting out more often).
  2. The Iron Bicycle Bridge over the Sangamon in Mahomet (see above comment).
  3. The expansive view of the lush, forested Sangamon River Valley from the Carillon tower at Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve.
  4. The red bridge over the spillway at Lake of the Woods where it meets the Sangamon.
  5. Crossing under the covered bridge at Lake of the Woods by kayak on the Sangamon.
  6. The historic Hazen Bridge, on the National Register of Historic Places, on CR 2600N north of Mahomet.
  7. Riverbend Forest Preserve just South of Mahomet.
  8. The Sangamon from the rivertrail at Barber Park.
  9. The forested bottomland, grass savannah, and the bluebirds at the Sangamon Greenway north and east of the Hwy 47 Bridge.
  10. Paddling under a train crossing the Mahomet railroad trestle over the Sangamon River.
  11. The foot trails along the Sangamon River at the Sangamon River Forest Preserve near Fisher.
  12. The “Sears House” at the Sangamon River Forest Preserve.
  13. The underside of the I-74 overpass from the Sangamon River (you’ll have to paddle for this one).
  14. A displayed collection of the Sangamon’s mussels, gathered during a mussel survey.
  15. The large schools of large carp that can be seen swimming in the Sangamon when the river gets nice and clear.
  16. Looking at and identifying the Sangamon’s many macroinvertabrates from under a microscope during a “Riverwatch” lab.
  17. The feeling of cleaning up trash out of the river or along Highway 47.
  18. Looking out on the Sangamon from the high bluff behind the Izaak Walton cabin at Lake of the Woods.
  19. A deer standing on the banks of the Sangamon pondering you with curiosity as you paddle slowly past.
  20. A Great Blue Heron flying and landing a comfortable distance ahead of you while paddling downstream, seemingly guiding your way down the river.
  21. Ice jams plowing and churning and ultimately destroying a log jam on the Sangamon as the river unfreezes.
  22. Paddling through a lowland forest when the Sangamon is at flood stage (careful!).
  23. Sitting in a lawn chair in the summer sun, toes in the water, out in the middle of the river when the river is at its lowest.
  24. Autumn pretty much anywhere along the river.
  25.  A turkey vulture circling overhead, never flapping its wings while floating effortlessly down the river.
  26. Watching canoeists or kayakers paddle past and disappear out of sight on the river.
  27. The River, bathed in full moonlight with the trees bare and the ground carpeted in white snow.
  28. The Sangamon in early Spring with the bottomland forest carpeted in bluebells.
  29. The only dam on the Sangamon River at Lake Decatur.
  30. Lincoln Homestead Trail State Park on the Sangamon near Harristown, south and west of Decatur.
  31. The Sangamon River and the Sun Singer statue at Allerton Park.
  32. The Sangamon River at Lodge Park, north and east of Monticello.
  33. Etnateak rock roadside marker beside McLean County Road 1075N, which marks the site of the bloody, merciless defeat of the Fox Indians by the French and their allies by the Sangamon in 1730.
  34. The historical marker about the “Steamboat Talisman”, the only steamboat to ever attempt to navigate the Sangamon River with Abe Lincoln at the helm at the rest area on I-55 just northeast of Springfield.
  35. The old abandoned wooden railroad trestle over the Sangamon just north and east of Fisher (you’ll have to paddle to see this one).
  36. The site on the “Potawatomie Trail of Death” south and east of Monticello where the Potawatomies crossed the Sangamon River during their forced removal to Kansas. At the corner of Caleb and Dunbar roads.
  37. Reeling in a Crappie, Catfish or Smallmouth Bass on the Sangamon River.
  38. The Land Conservation’s Sangamon River Forest Preserve just south of the public golf course in Monticello.
  39. The mill site on the Sangamon River at New Salem Historic Site, New Salem, Illinois west of Springfield.
  40. The site of the non-existent Oakley Dam on the Sangamon just north of where Raes Bridge Road  crosses Lake Decatur.
  41. The abandoned iron railroad bridge (now a footpath over the Sangamon River) at Shady Rest Park in Piatt County.
  42. The Heron rookery on the Sangamon upstream of the Hazen Bridge.
  43. The Heron rookery on the Sangamon near where it leaves Champaign County.
  44. The Sangamon River (really more like Sangamon Brook) where it crosses under W. Harrison Street at Saybrook near the town cemetery.
  45. A tree shrouded canopy on the Sangamon in the middle of summer that looks like a cathedral.
  46. Slowly swimming the backstroke upriver in the Sangamon while remaining stationary in the downstream current.
  47. Spotting a rare and beautiful bald eagle on the Sangamon.
  48. Spotting a rare and beautiful wood duck on the Sangamon.
  49. The headwaters of the Sangamon “River” (loosely defined) just north of Ellsworth on McLean County Rd 2850 E.
  50. The seemingly endless flooded marshes and bird sanctuary at the end of the Sangamon where it merges with the Illinois River north and west of Beardstown.

There you have it, folks: your very own Sangamon River ‘Bucket List’ suitable for snipping and posting to your fridge, and all within a few hours’ drive of the Village. I mean really, who needs Mount Ranier, the Olympic National Forest, the Taj Mahal or Macchu Picchu when we’ve got our very own Sangamon River?

For more information about the Sangamon, visit www.sangamonriver.org

Errata: In my last column, I mentioned that Lake of the Woods did not offer ice skating on the Lake. Reader Alma Pugh remembers hundreds of people skating on the Lake one cold Sunday in the late 40’s or early 50’s. “We just had the best time that day,” she said. I stand gladly corrected!

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, January 23, 2014, by Scott Hays


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