Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days

Yes, it’s that time of year! Time for “those days of soda, and pretzels and beer” according to Nat King Cole.

The Summer Solstice passed on June 21. After this longest day of the year, the days have already started getting shorter again even as the temperatures remain high.

The Summer Solstice found Carol and me with our feet propped up at the Aster Cafe having Saturday brunch along Southeast Main Street overlooking the Mississippi River and the Minneapolis skyline.

We had no idea what a stunning sight the Mississippi River could be as the high water cascaded powerfully down the man-made chute of St. Anthony Falls. They ask a lot of the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis, it’s been a lumber mill, flour mill, hydroelectric power plant as well as transporter of rivercraft through the St. Anthony Locks and Dam.

There in downtown Minneapolis, we studied a continent-wide map of the Mississippi River watershed and all of her tributaries. And there on the map, coursing through Central Illinois just below the Illinois River, which splits our state diagonally in two, was our very own Sangamon River. It was unnamed, of course, but so were all the other tributary rivers on the map. But it was nice to see the Sangamon depicted on a map right there in downtown Minneapolis, demonstrating its role and contribution to the vast, continental-scale Mississippi River watershed.

Back here on the Sangamon on the Summer Solstice, the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy hosted “Introduction to Fishing on the Sangamon River” down at Riverbend Forest Preserve. The USRC has attracted several fishing members and their friends who met for a Sangamon fishing demo by USRC member Bart Duesdieker. In addition, Trent Thomas of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources displayed several specimens of beautiful Sangamon River fish that he had “shocked” (yes, it means what it says) the day before at the IL 47 bridge south of Mahomet.

Trent’s shocking catch included a huge catfish (along with demonstrating the proper catfish holding technique) and a nice size feisty, long-nosed gar. He also had a healthy sized small-mouthed bass, rock bass, black crappie, white crappie and walleye. Don’t worry, most of the fish survive their shocking (although some apparently don’t survive the ice bucket), but we still don’t recommend you try this in your bathtub at home. After the demo, folks fished the river and followed up with a crappie fish fry for lunch. Too bad Carol and I had to be in Minneapolis!

During the overly rainy months of June and now July, the Sangamon has been flowing higher than usual, creating havoc with the USRC’s schedule of Riverwatch monitoring of the Sangamon’s macro-invertebrates. According to the Fisher Gage where the Sangamon crosses under US 136 west of Fisher, the maximum depth on the 1st of July was over 15 feet. As of this writing, it was back down near 7 feet. Normal flow this time of year is just above 5 feet.

So far, the river has been too high to monitor the Sangamon’s macroinvertebrates, an indicator of the health and quality of the water, although USRC members have monitored the four colorfully-named Sangamon tributaries we annually monitor: Crooked Creek that runs beside our place, Buffalo Trace Creek that runs through the Buffalo Trace Prairie Forest Preserve land on the west side of IL 47 across from the Early Amercian Museum, Wildcat Slough which courses through the Sangamon River Forest Preserve near Fisher and Pancake Creek near the Newcomb Township offices near IL 47 (named for early settler Jesse Pancake, not the tasty breakfast food). Results of the macroinvertebrate surveys will be completed at the Riverwatch lab in August.

And now, Riverwatch monitoring of the Sangamon River at the Sangamon River Forest Preserve, Lake of the Woods and Riverbend is scheduled for the weekend of July 12 and 13, and we’d love to have you join us! It’s a fascinating experience of being an outdoors “Citizen Scientist.” Check the USRC website for details.

In any event, later in June, I found myself driving over to Kent, Ohio with my older daughter who will be attending Kent State University in the Fall. Kent State is perhaps best and most notoriously known for the day on May 4, 1970 when the Ohio National Guard shot 67 times in 13 seconds into a crowd of college students who were protesting Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia. Four college students were killed and nine were wounded by the National Guard that day. This tragic Kent State shooting is usually credited as marking a major turning point in support for the war in Vietnam.

What does this have to do with the Sangamon River, you ask? Interestingly, photographer John Filo took a Pulitzer-prize winning photo that day of Mary Ann Vecchio calling out over the dead body of student Jeffrey Miller which you may have seen. The same photographer John Filo, later working for the Chicago Sun-Times, took an April, 1974 photo of two highly skeptical farmers armed with pitchforks who were in Springfield, Illinois protesting the Oakley Dam on the Sangamon River (which was never constructed). This photo proudly hangs in my office and represents my “2011 River Steward of the Year Award” from Prairie Rivers Network. Okay, I’ll admit its not much of a connection, but I always try and appreciate the invisible threads that connect things together. In this case, our daughter’s new school, Kent State and the Sangamon River.

And what would the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer be without canoeing the Sangamon? The USRC has already hosted four float trips down the river this summer, the most recent was upriver from CR3200N north of Fisher down to the Sangamon River Forest Preserve on July 4 weekend. The weather threatened rain as the forecast closed in, but it wouldn’t dare rain on our parade, and it turned out to be a beautiful day on a beautiful stretch of river marked by high water and excellent current. As usual, we picked up trash along the way. The trash included a styrofoam cooler, a Miller Light beer can with the old pull-style top, a bottle of antifreeze, a vodka bottle, a half-full can of auto refinishing paint (half-empty for you pessimists), an old electronic vacuum tube and an aerosol can of “Buck Bomb” (100% pure whitetail deer urine). Y’know the usual stuff you’d expect to find in a river.

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, June 17, 2014, by Scott Hays


In any case, despite the passing of the Summer Solstice and the shortening of the days, we’re still right smack in the middle of those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. There are more USRC-sponsored float trips planned, the Riverwatch monitoring opportunities, mussel surveys on the Sangamon, and don’t forget about the Fourth Annual Sangamon River Duck Race during this year’s Riverfest, with tons of fabulous prizes for the winners! Check out the USRC website for details!


So let’s take the advice of Nat King Cole and get out there while there’s plenty of summer left so we can “dust off the sun and moon and sing song of cheer!”


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