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Letter to the Editor: Open Illinois’ rivers and waterways

I recently read a beautiful blog on WBEZ’s website by Zachary Nauth on the pleasures of paddlesport.

As an avid tandem and solo canoe, whitewater and sea kayak paddler, I can only support what the author wrote about the pleasures and beauty a few hours on a local river can bring. I also know that paddlers – once exposed to this environment – become very strong proponents for environmental protection.

Kayaking on the river. Credit: Filip Mroz via Unsplash

One cannot protect what was doesn’t love…..and one cannot love what one doesn’t know!

As lovely as the article is. I’d like to add a correction to the caption on the photo mentioning Illinois’ 87,000-plus miles of rivers and while this is the RoundTable and not WBEZ, I wanted my Evanston neighbors to know all of this as well.

While it is true that there are 87,000-plus miles of rivers in Illinois, only a very small percentage of these river miles are accessible to paddlers or the general public wishing to recreate in a canoe or kayak.

The reason is Illinois’s antiquated Water Access Law which defines a publicly accessible river as one having been designated as such some centuries ago documenting the use of the waterway for commerce at that time. You can read more here.

I am sad to say the vast majority of the rivers in our state are NOT accessible to Illinois paddlers as was confirmed in last month’s ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, where the court sided with landowners, saying they can block off waterways to paddlers and fishing enthusiast.

Yet…there is a glimmer of hope as one of the justices also stated that it is time to change Illinois’ antiquated access law to include recreational uses as a valid activity on a river. We have miles of reasons to do change that law – 87,000 of them in fact.

Sigrid Pilgrim
Evanston

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