This past Labor Day the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy hosted a group of river lovers on one of my personal favorite float trip routes. Like most of the USRC’s trips, this one was open for all with canoes and kayaks provided free of charge to any participant, first come, first served.
We put in at the historic Hazen Bridge in rural Champaign County where County Road 2600N crosses the Sangamon River and ended 5 1/2 miles downriver at Champaign County’s Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve.
The Sangamon’s depth at the Fisher NOAA river gage registered 4.5 feet, which is really lower than I would recommend for this route. But the weather was warm so we decided to go ahead.
By 10 am, 23 river lovers set out from the Hazen Bridge. Only a few hundred yards downriver from the Hazen Bridge, the river became criss-crossed with deadfall. We slogged over, under and through with everyone chipping in to maneuver the boats through. Nonetheless, our group remained enthusiastic as we paddled on, winding through the bottomland forests of Central Illinois.
Here, paddlers find a relatively small and intimate river. Averaging about 50 feet wide, the Sangamon flows quietly under a thick canopy of sycamores, elms, silver maples, hawthorne, black walnut and many more. The river presents opportunities to spot whitetail deer, barred and great horned owls, muskrat, and possibly a beaver or a river otter. The USRC frequently checks this area for mussel populations, finding very healthy mussel populations and a wide variety of species.
At any time, fallen trees present river-borne obstacles that challenge paddlers and due to the low water, this trip offered many more than usual. Near the halfway point, I provided a most-welcome brief respite with an iced-down cooler full of all types of beverages waiting on a sandbar where the Sangamon passes by my backyard.
The Sangamon River flows about 1.5 miles per hour in this area, so depending on one’s inclination for paddling, this 5 ½ mile trip normally takes 3 to 4 hours. This day, it took us more than 6 hours. In the end, even though our group was tired after a day on a low water river, the weather was ideal and they were still smiling and enjoyed their outdoor experience on the Sangamon River.
Overall, this is a highly recommended trip but for better enjoyment, look for river depths at the Fisher Gage in the 5 ½ to 6 foot range, but below 10 feet (flood stage). Both put-in and take out are easy to find on maps (sangamonriver.org/sangamon-river-map-with-access-points/), with parking at the Hazen Bridge limited, but possible off the road on the west side of the new bridge. The path to the river is just to the right of the old bridge. At Lake of the Woods, a nice parking area beside the river can be found at the end of the road leading to the Izaak Walton cabin. While there is no developed landing here (yet), taking out there is about as good as most spots along the river, with nice trails and convenient public access with nearby parking.
So set on the Sangamon River yourself or join us soon! For more information on upcoming activities in the watershed, including USRC trips, visit sangamonriveralliance.org/events.