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Chicago outdoors & coronavirus: Heidecke, Silver Springs, North Point, Illinois Beach SP, Hennepin-Hopper

Updates come on Heidecke Lake, Silver Springs SFWA, North Point Marina, Illinois Beach SP and Hennepin-Hopper lakes.

File photo of the iconic viewing tower at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge (Hennepin-Hopper Lakes). Credit: Dale Bowman
File photo of the iconic viewing tower at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge (Hennepin-Hopper Lakes).
Dale Bowman

It’s been a bizarre month and a half since the Illinois Department of Natural Resources closed all its sites on the afternoon of March 15. It became even more bizarre today when many IDNR sites eopened on a limited basis.

I mean many, as in many more than originally posted as reopening.

(At the bottom, I also have an update, which I learned late today, on Hennepin-Hopper lakes at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, one of my favorite spots in Illinois.)

As bizarre as the situation was with northeastern Illinois sites, it was nothing compared to the massive changes that went on with reopenings in southern Illinois. Click here for the latest lists of what was or is supposed to be reopened across Illinois.

  • The most bizarre part of today may be Heidecke Lake, the former cooling lake near Morris. It was literally decided to reopen it today, because it is part of Goose Lake Prairie. I briefly considered heading out there when I found out, but instead stuck with the reopening of Kankakee River State Park.
  • The other bizarre part is the state of North Point Marina. It’s listed as officially closed, but, for all practical purposes, appears to be functioning as if open. I am still trying to sort that one out officially and unofficially.
  • Not sure when this happened, but Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area reopened on Friday, a much needed opening to ease pressure on other sites. (Rock Cut SP also unexpectedly is listed as reopened.)
  • Unrelated to the coronavirus, Illinois Beach SP did not reopen today because of flooding and storm damage.

Now, to Hennepin-Hopper lakes at Dixon Waterfowl Refuge near Hennepin. Paul Botts, president and executive director of The Wetlands Initiative, called and emailed late this afternoon with an update on what is happening with an experimental three-day access trial in mid-May.

In a follow-up phone call, he indicated rather certainly that he expects fishing to come back this year, but obviously that depends on lots of things.

Here is the email update:

On Tuesday, May 19 through Thursday, May 21, the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge will be open to visitors from dawn to dusk for a trial run of public access during the COVID-19 epidemic.

We’re glad so many people treasure and enjoy this special place. Thank you for your understanding as we navigate this unusual and unprecedented time.

Only the trails will be open on these days. The lakes will remain closed to paddling and fishing at this time. Please practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet away from other people including TWI staff doing restoration and stewardship work. Of course the standard rules for visiting, which are posted at the Refuge, also still apply.

As always, parking is allowed only in the official lots. If all parking spaces are filled, please visit the Refuge at another time. No portable toilets will be available so plan your visit accordingly.

If all goes well during the three-day trial run and it’s clear that we can protect the health of both visitors and staff, we aim to keep public access moving forward into the summer. We’re hoping that everyone together can make this possible!

I sure hope it opens up. It is one of the great fishing spots in Illinois, but I love it even more just for the audacity of its concept and execution as a restoration project. If I am in the area, I climb the tower to check out the site or do some hiking.