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Chicago outdoors and coronavirus: Trout season/turkey hunting/cooling lakes/why/FPD of Will County

Some questions are answered on trout season in the Chicago area, turkey hunting at IDNR sites, why some IDNR sites were opened and not others, and the FPD of Will County easing of restrictions.

Shabbona Lake State Recreaton Area, shown here in a file photo at sunset, is one of the IDNR sites reopening to limited use on May 1. Credit: Dale Bowman
Shabbona Lake State Recreaton Area, shown here in a file photo at sunset, is one of the IDNR sites reopening to limited use on May 1.
Dale Bowman

When I heard Gov. J.B. Pritzker talking Thursday about the “phased reopening of some of our state parks,” I immediately thought I would be at Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area at dawn on May 1, both to fish and to forage for morel mushrooms.

Not so fast, Mazonia was not on the reopening list. The cooling lakes in northeast Illinois were not either.

So now, my plan is hit Kankakee River State Park the morning of Friday, May 1. I am certain I will not be alone in wanting to hit the 10 or so miles of shoreline there along the Kankakee River.

Readers had a bunch of questions related to the limited reopening of Illinois Department of Natural Resources sites and also about whether the easing of some restrictions would mean anything for the forest preserves restrictions.

Below is what I’ve gathered so far on turkey hunting, trout season, access and reasoning for site openings or still being closed, and an update from the Forest Preserve District of Will County.

Click here for the latest from the IDNR on the evolving opening of some sites. While reading the list of activities mentioned, I did not see turkey hunting listed. Early May has the final days of turkey hunting for those holding permits for specific sites.

So I contacted IDNR deputy director Rachel Torbert, who emailed back Friday:

To ensure the safety of all visitors, hunting remains suspended at state parks, fish and wildlife areas and recreational areas.

Understanding closure and fee concerns raised by permit holders, IDNR is reviewing all possible solutions, including refunds for all spring 2020 turkey permits issued by the Department. Additional information will be provided via the IDNR website as soon as it is available.

This is where things get intertwined, with no turkey hunting at the IDNR sites that reopen, no longer do morel foragers or birdwatchers need to wait until 1 p.m. to begin wandering the woods and fields. They can begin doing so at dawn on May 1 at those sites reopening.

* * *

While reaching out to Torbert, I also asked for the reasoning on not opening the cooling lakes and she replied:

Protecting the health and safety of our site visitors, staff and first responders is our highest priority. With that in mind, IDNR worked with Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health to develop a list of state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas and historic sites which considered many factors.

Selected sites represent parks, fish and wildlife areas and recreational areas which are distributed throughout the state and are accessible to many, offer a wide variety of recreational opportunities with acreage to allow for social distancing directives, provide necessary restroom and handwashing facilities, and have on-site staff to ensure the safety of visitors and maintenance of the site and site facilities. Safety of park visitors and potential strain on staff, first responders and law enforcement also were considered when reviewing potential sites.

IDNR will continue to work closely with the Governor’s Office and the Illinois Department of Public Health as directives change to further assess site closures.

Technically, I understand, but I wish they would reconsider on the cooling lakes.

I understand keeping the high-volume, high-density, sites, such as Starved Rock SP and William W. Powers State Recreational Area and Illinois Beach SP closed, but some of the lesser sites not being reopened have me scratching my head.

* * *

As to trout season at the Forest Preserves of Cook County sites, director of communications Carl Vogel emailed Friday, “We do not currently have plans for a date for the start of trout season.’’

The opening of trout season in the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County is on hold, pending further review, as communications lead Deb Humiston emailed Friday:

I found out that we’re waiting to review the official signed executive order from the governor’s office when it’s available. We’ll then adjust our operations as needed to align with the revise/extended order. We’ll communicate any adjustments — which will start on May 1 — next week.

Stay tuned on the trout season there and a couple other nearby sites.

* * *

Here’s the key paragraphs on the easing of some restrictions at the Forest Preserve District of Will County:

The Forest Preserve District of Will County will reopen its preserve access area parking lots and boat launches on Friday, May 1, as a result of Gov. J.B. Pritzker modifying his stay-at-home order, which was instituted March 21 to fight the new coronavirus pandemic in Illinois.

However, all visitor centers, dog parks, latrines and water fountains will remain closed through the duration of the stay-at-home mandate’s extension, which now ends May 30. All public programs, rentals and non-district events have been canceled through May 30. Because the Monee Reservoir visitor center/concessions building is closed, there will be no boat rentals until further notice. These closures and cancellations will remain in effect to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, which could overwhelm healthcare institutions and cause more deaths.

Once parking lots reopen May 1, people should not be congregating in the preserves and at trailheads, which could spread COVID-19. It may be necessary to temporarily close sites where social distancing is not being maintained.

That last paragraph is important.

Click here for the full update from FPDWC.