Now I’m not trying to imply anything, but the best way to get to know the Sangamon River may not be to sit back in your LaZBoy, prop your feet up on the coffee table, have Fido fetch your slippers and flip open your Mahomet Citizen to read “Notes from the River.”
No, the best way to get to know it is to get out there on it.
Leisurely paddling the Sangamon can be a singularly rewarding experience. Canoeing the cool, winding Sangamon under an intimate canopy of bright green trees and blue skies is a fine escape from the straight county roads and unending horizons of Central Illinois.
But before tossing your Citizen and picking up a paddle, maybe this week reading “Notes from the River” is not such a bad idea. That’s because this week’s column presents the “unofficial” guide to accessing the Sangamon (meaning, whatever you do, do not try this at home).
The furthest “unofficial” public place upstream of Mahomet where one might reasonably consider dropping a craft in the river is at the Sangamon River Forest Preserve. This Forest Preserve is off CR 600E north of Mahomet near Fisher. It’s a pretty good walk due West from the parking lot to the river, and the river access, where Wildcat Slough meets the Sangamon, is pretty average. The bank is relatively steep and can be quite slick when muddy and wet. The roots of a convenient tree can provide hand support, and as long as the water is low, putting in here is not too bad. Be careful!
A couple of hours downriver from the Forest Preserve (less than 10 minutes by car) is the Hazen Bridge off CR 2600N. This beautiful old bridge in a wooded setting is a great place to visit, but unfortunately, there is no official parking area and so parking here is, well, nonexistent. You may be able to wedge your car along beside the road (at your own risk), but better would be to get dropped off here if you plan to launch or to arrange a pick up.
In contrast to the parking challenges, getting in or out of the water at the Hazen Bridge is pretty easy, with low shallow banks and easy access to the river. The best side is on the east side of the river. Some people hike down the steep embankment on the east side, others come in on the west side, carry their craft over the bridge and walk down; easier, but longer.
The next unofficial public access, about three or four hours by river (15 minutes tops by highway) is at Lake of the Woods. The best river’s edge “official” parking in this area is at the end of the road leading to the Izaak Walton cabin. But the problem here is getting in the water. With a steep muddy embankment and relatively deep water in certain areas, this is a place to be very careful. The best area is perhaps off to the left a bit (downstream) where the embankment slopes more gently to the river and the river is much shallower. But even here, the muddy bank can be quite slippery when wet, making access a dicey experience. Some people are tempted to get in by way of the spillway creek, but the bank is slick and the bottom is filled with thick, soft, quicksand like muck.
For now, it’s probably best to skip Barber Park and to be aware that that nice convenient boat ramp you can see from Highway 150 across from Barber is private property, so too bad for you (although the owner is a really nice guy!). On the other hand, some riverside property owners, including myself and this one, will sometimes allow river access to USCR members, so join NOW! ($15 annual dues: cheap!)
One of the nicer sites to access the river is under the newly revamped bridge at IL 47/Division Street just outside Mahomet. There is ample parking at the usually empty, but newly revamped Sangamon Greenway parking lot. Then you can walk down by the bridge to the river. The shore line of the river here is covered with large granite rocks called rip rap. And it could do something like that to your feet if you’re not careful. But all things considered, the river is fairly shallow near the bank, and the bank is low, and that’s as good as one can expect for accessing the Sangamon for now.
Other people may have other ideas, but the bottom line is, accessing the Sangamon can be difficult and challenging, especially at high water. We do need better access. The USRC is actively working with property owners and local officials to change that. But in order to develop better access points, more people need to be interested in the river, and in order to care about the river you really need to get out there on it. But in order to get out there on it, we need better river access. Which comes first? Always a good question.
But despite the access difficulties, paddling the Sangamon River is always a rewarding and unique experience for this area. So now put down that Citizen and get out there on it! (after reading about County politics, foster parenting, nutrition advice and all that other fun stuff, too, of course).
For more information on accessing the Sangamon and a helpful map, visit sangamonriver.org
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, May 3, 2012, by Scott P. Hays