Jenni Schiavone paddled the full-length of the Fox River in September to promote river protection
Jenni Schiavone paddled the full-length of the Fox River in September to promote river protection

A Tale of Two Fox Rivers Part 1: Kane County’s Defiant Wild River

Kane County Connects Staff and Jenni Schiavone, Director of Education Programs Operations with Friends of the Fox River 11/14/2022 10:00AM

I always wanted to paddle the entire length of the Fox River, so in September of this year I did just that. Friends and family joined me along the way. I aspired to get to know the river better and speak about it from first hand experiences.

My job as and educator with the Friends of the Fox River is to lead joyous, educational activities to help children understand and value the river and how they can protect it. 

The trip was one of 51 ‘It’s Our Fox River Day’ 2022 events. ‘It’s Our Fox River Day’ is an annual tradition and the largest event in existence that celebrates the Fox River. Since most of my work days are spent using the river and its tributaries as a living laboratory with students, experiencing all 200 miles of the Fox River and making friends along the way was important to me, both personally and professionally.

Paddling the entire of the Fox River taught me that our river has every watery characteristic imaginable. There are stretches that are barely navigable and riddled with downed trees. Other stretches include wide lake-like flats where paddlers and power boaters must coexist. Getting out of the boat and hauling it and my gear around the river’s 16 dams, crossing one of the most heavily used powerboat recreation areas in the country at the Chain O’Lakes, and scrambling to find camping, proved to be challenging. But those obstacles were balanced by the majesty of the area with completely clear water, premier wildlife habitat, and incredible geologic features ... begging to be explored. 

Visit our blog page for a detailed account of the whole paddling trip.

Kane County’s stretch of the Fox River encompasses more river miles than any other Illinois county. Its portion begins in Algonquin around river mile 80 and ends near river mile 45 between Montgomery and Oswego. Along these 35 miles of river in Kane County are a tale of two waterways.  Just at the county’s beginning is what I call the defiant wild, a stretch of river with wilderness qualities that is winning the battle against urban encroachment. On the east bank, the unincorporated Kane County neighborhood of Algonquin Shores touches the northernmost end of Fox River Shores Forest Preserve and across the river is Buffalo Park which blends seamlessly into the Brunner Family Forest Preserve.

These Forest Preserve District of Kane County landholdings on both banks provide several square miles of contiguous wildlife habitat and a healthy, vegetated riverbank buffer from pollutant runoff.  It makes Kane County’s defiant wild stretch nothing short of premier. I’ve paddled through this gentle, winding stretch dozens of times, though I’ll never grow tired of it.

kanes defiant wild.jpg 

Paddle this stretch yourself and witness eagles soaring overhead, heron and egrets stalking their prey and turtles plunking into the river off their warming logs (one day we counted 155 of them). Delicate, colorful dragonflies and their cousins the damselflies will occasionally stop and take a rest on the bow of your boat. This time when I was paddling through, I thought about biodiversity. I meditated on gratitude.  It was on Kane’s defiant wild stretch of the Fox River that I played in riverfront “parks” as a child, which were essentially undeveloped floodplain lots. Now, my kids play there. As a student at Dundee Crown High School, also in this section, we canoed, tested water quality and sampled habitat, studying under Gary Swick, then environmental science teacher and now president of the Friends of the Fox River. This is my home stretch of river. It’s celebrated for its sanctuary-like qualities and the peace and joy it constantly provides.

Prior to my trip I had read and conversed a lot about other stretches of the river that I had not paddled and was introduced to their issues, but I had no idea how different a river can be until I navigated it personally.

What happens when a natural river is artificially straightened, dammed, and degraded while people so desperately rely on it for drinking water and wastewater management? No county better represents this dichotomy than our beloved Kane.

Coming up on Nov 17, A Tale of Two Fox Rivers, Part 2: Kane County’s River in Need. For more geographical context, view detailed Fox River maps by visiting the Fabulous Fox! Water Trail site.

This article was written for Kane County Connects by Jenni Schiavone, Director of Education Programs Operations with Friends of the Fox River

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