A group of homeowners, business owners and boaters recently came together to push back against the idea of more no-wake restrictions being placed on the Lower Fox River.
Members of the “Lower Fox River Alliance” have said adding more no-wake zones would lead to less powerboating and more problems for those who live and work in the area.
The alliance said adding more no-wake zones to the ones currently in place will turn the Lower Fox River into a “powerboating nightmare,” according to a news release.
Opponents have said new no-wake restrictions will lead to a mass exodus of powerboaters that would “decimate” the revenue of restaurants and marinas along the Lower Fox, which is the section of the river that begins about after the William G. Stratton-Thomas A. Bolger Lock and Dam in McHenry and meanders past several communities in eastern McHenry and western Lake counties.
The concerns raised by the Lower Fox River Alliance stem from the Fox River Corridor Plan, which was created by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning in collaboration with the McHenry County Planning and Development Department and Lake County. McHenry County adopted the plan last year.
Among the recommendations, the Fox River Corridor Plan says there should be consideration of enforcing no-wake zones in congested areas of the river.
Kate Evasic, a senior planner for CMAP and a project manager on the Fox River Corridor Plan, said the plan intended to look at the river holistically, and that it is a “broad vision” for the next 15 to 20 years.
Based on what they heard from the public and stakeholders, Evasic said the decision on whether to add more no-wake zones should be a community-led process.
“What we recommended was that the process should include ample outreach to all river users,” she said. “That absolutely includes the boating community.”
The main reason CMAP suggested the no-wake zones was because of concerns about heavy boat traffic, Evasic said.
“Safety is the primary reason,” she said, adding that the zones also would reduce erosion on the river.
Planning officials said the Fox River Corridor Plan was crafted by soliciting opinions from 425 residents and stakeholders on the Lower Fox River. This includes residents, riverfront property owners, marina operators, powerboaters, paddlers and environmental advocates, they said.
However, Bruce Mason, a facilitator of the Lower Fox River Alliance who has lived on the river for more than 35 years, said the no-wake zone part of the plan was “a great surprise” to him and others.
“Our biggest problem was our collective voice was not heard on this,” he said.
Members of the group now are trying to reach out to the government agencies and municipalities along the Fox that CMAP consulted to voice their point of view, Mason said.
The group is a “digital community” of 2,000 members, Mason said.
He said he thinks it will hit 3,000 by the end of the year.
Mason also has a core group of people he talks to that he calls a “brain trust,” filled with people he has pulled together and whose opinions he values, working with him in the alliance. They send emails with updates on developments on the Lower Fox and receive feedback from group members.
Mason wanted to make clear that this is not a battle between powerboaters and those who use paddlecrafts.
“It’s a public waterway, and every kind of watercraft within reason has a right to use it,” he said.
The Lower Fox River Alliance said the 185-mile-long Fox River is 90% shallow, which is “perfect” for paddlecraft and small boats. The 18-mile stretch of the Lower Fox is unique, the group said, because it was dredged in the 1950s to accommodate larger powerboats.
“In the intervening 60-plus years, it has spawned a whole community and culture dedicated to powerboating,” the alliance said.
Dennis Sandquist, director of planning and development for McHenry County, said the county is responding to the comments the group has made, in addition to requesting a meeting with its members.
“We certainly invite them to the table as we start planning,” Sandquist said. “We definitely want them to be part of the process.”
The Fox Waterway Agency is the only entity with authority to impose boating restrictions on the Fox River.
Members of the agency’s board of directors have no interest in doing this, and no one has approached the agency wanting to do so, said Joe Keller, executive director of the Fox Waterway Agency.
“[Board members] feel there is already adequate areas for kayakers and canoers,” he said.
Even so, some people with businesses along the river said they want to make clear their opposition to any new no-wake zones is to prevent the worst from happening.
Bonnie Miske-Haber has worked at the Broken Oar Marina at 614 Rawson Bridge Road in Port Barrington for 10 years; her husband owns the business.
She said no-wake restrictions could make cruising the river less convenient for people and hurt their business.
“[No-wake zones] would prevent people from wanting to powerboat, [and] prevent people from being able to commute from one business to another, from their home to a business,” she said. “If these are in place, it’s just going to directly and catastrophically affect our businesses.”
On the opposite bank of the river at Port Barrington Marina, 1317 Behan Road, Crystal Lake, owner Jim Forbes agreed.
Forbes has been storing and servicing boats on the Lower Fox for 42 years, and he said adding more no-wake zones would “devastate” his business, as powerboaters would go to other areas.
“I would have to change my lifestyle if I was missing out on all that income,” he said.
Scott Treiber, an Algonquin resident who powerboats along the Lower Fox River, said the Fox River Corridor Plan has some good points, but there are some he disagrees with.
He said some people go too fast through certain areas of the river, so he always is prepared to be on the defensive as a boater.
However, Treiber said, the no-wake zones are not going to make a difference and will interrupt powerboaters.
“You’re not going to stop the waves that go through those areas,” he said. “I understand what they want to do, but it doesn’t make sense.”