Fox (Illinois R. trib.) - D) Yorkville: Marge Cline Whitewater Course (PnP)

Fox (Illinois R. trib.), Illinois, US


D) Yorkville: Marge Cline Whitewater Course (PnP) (Bicentennial Riverfront Park)

Usual Difficulty I-II (varies with level)
Length 0.2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 10 fpm
Max Gradient 10 fpm

IL WW fest

IL WW fest
Photo @ 2500 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-05551580 250 - 3200 cfs II+ 00h55m 3630 cfs (too high)
Uncertain. Possibly too high for reasonable play in course. (We welcome further input to fine-tune characterization of features at various flows.) Gauge (1804 sq.mi. drainage) is at this location. (Note: Total flow is split between dam and the course except at lowest flows.)

River Description

Quick Facts:

Location: Downtown Yorkville (Approximately 12 miles southwest from Aurora, 50 miles southwest of downtown Chicago).
Shuttle Length: Carry up (park-and-play)
Character: Free "playpark" in an engineered channel around a dam on a fairly large watershed river.

General Overview

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be made clear that this is not a 'full-length' multi-featured whitewater course like the East Race in South Bend, Indiana (at ~2090' long) or the Wausau Whitewater Park in Wisconsin (at ~1930' long). This is a canoe-bypass and fish ladder, and a couple of playspots. That disclaimer given, it is a wonderfully convenient place for N.E.Illinois (and perhaps S.E.Wisconsin) boaters to paddle moving water with playable features, and is likely to hold sufficient flow to be boatable almost 24/7/365! (OK, a bit of exaggeration -- it should have adequate flow all summer for at least some mild play, but it is likely to ice-up and be unavailable in the thick of winter.) Additional facilities in the 'Bicentennial Riverfront Park' (buildings/retail/concessions) make this a fine training area for beginner-whitewater boaters, and allow more experienced boaters a chance for a close-to-home workout during the week, between trips to more challenging rivers.

There is parking adjacent to the bottom of the course (on the South side of the river, East of Hwy.47), and a more limited amount of parking at the top of the course. (Boaters generally should not park in the lot at the Yak Shack unless they are using the services or equipment available there.)

The major impetus for construction of this facility was that the former dam at this location was responsible for more than a dozen deaths, including three Memorial Weekend in 2006 (at a level around 2250 cfs). During the winter of 2008/2009 the dam was reconstructed (so as to not create a 'killer hydraulic'). Summer/fall 2009 (continuing into 2010) saw construction of the adjacent bypass channel as a fish ladder, downriver canoe bypass, and as a whitewater playpark.

The ~1100' long course was initially designed to contain two separate channels -- one being more tame and straight-forward to allow downriver paddlers (flatwater canoes and recreational kayaks) to safely bypass the dam (and allow fish-passage upstream and down), the other being a "challenge" channel containing one or two more difficult features (class II-III) to allow whitewater boaters a place to practice and play. The implementation is not so much separate channels as it is a single channel, with rock-islands splitting the flow in two locations, creating a few choices of routes.

As with many man-made channels and engineered courses, there are strong currents and some squirrely eddy lines, so even well-experienced paddlers may find themselves challenged to roll when flipped by the currents. Being an engineered course it is relatively safe; however, folks should not forget it is still real water, real current, and real rocks, so swimmers should exercise appropriate caution (i.e. defensive swimming) when they find themselves out of their boats.

There is an annual Illinois Whitewater Festival (IWF) with a Cardboard Regatta provided by the Yorkville Chamber on Friday evening, and a Buttercup Slalom Series & Boatercross sponsored by World Kayak on Saturday. This happens about the middle of July, in conjunction with a "Ribs on the River" event.

A pdf on the overall design of the dam and bypass is available at Chicago Whitewater.

An article (with photos of boaters in the course) may be found at Dec.2010 Illinois Outdoor

The following YouTube video shows the 'final test' of the course, October 13, 2010, at just shy of 500 cfs.

The following shows some additional play, at 700 cfs.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-01-27 21:19:47

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Entrance WaveIIPlayspot
0.1Second WaveIPlayspot
0.1Play WaveIIPlayspot
0.1Mid WaveIPlayspot Photo
0.2Run-outIPlayspot Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Entrance Wave (Class II)

At lower flows, this offers surfing and flat spins galore. At flows above around 1200-1500 the wave washes out. At optimum flows, the feature should allow cartwheels and loops, though at other flows it can be somewhat shallow, so attempting vertical moves may find bottom-contact (depending on where you initiate, and your boat and technique). The feature actually becomes more retentive as flows drop.

Second Wave (Class I, Mile 0.1)

Just down stream of the entrance is a rocky island.

River-left of the island is "Second Wave" which (depending on flow) may allow some flat front-surfing.

Play Wave (Class II, Mile 0.1)

On river-right of the island is "play wave". Experienced playboaters may be able to throw a loop here, but it takes some effort to find the sweet spot. At many flows, the 'pocket' tends to be too narrow/tight for most boaters to be able to get sideways (to side-surf) or to spin.

Mid Wave (Class I, Mile 0.1)

IL WW fest

IL WW fest
Photo by Bob M @ 2500 cfs

As the left and right flows come together, they form "middle wave" just upstream of the pedestrian bridge that crosses over the run. This feature occasionally offers some surf opportunities, if one can catch one of the sweet spots.

Run-out (Class I, Mile 0.2)

IL WW fest

IL WW fest
Photo by Bob M @ 2500 cfs

Downstream of the pedestrian bridge, another rocky island splits the run. Although the river right channel was supposed to be the "challenge route", it offers not much for the whitewater paddler. The river left channel also offers little except some opportunity to practice catching eddies. The bottom of the course (as the flow meets the waters of the main river-channel below the dam) may offer bow stall and stern squirt opportunities.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 17 2018 (85 days ago)
szczrob (159413)
Run on 9/1/18 - level was in lower 2000s and slowly dropping. Beginning of the day the first drop
was gone. The second two were small drops with waves. Both were pretty narrow, small spots for
front surf, but nothing stable. The middle wave train was still fun. The bottom routes were wavy,
good and splashy but nothing to hang around with. The eddies and the eddy lines were quite strong.
I was with a small group of beginners (with gear help from the yak shack). This level was fine for
working on basic moves - peel outs, eddies, ferries, and paddling through waves. The eddy lines
made for a lot of swims, but everyone had a good time. There wasn't much for advanced work. The
level dropped a little by the end of the day. The first drop started to be a ripple and somethings
started to show that would fun as the level continued to drop, but nothing there yet. Local we
talked to said this 2000-2500 range is a little bland.
July 18 2018 (146 days ago)
szczrob (159413)
Run around 1000cfs Entrance was a flat section of froth. easy to attain and good for practicing
moving back and forth across a wave. Perhaps someone of more skill could do some more interesting
moves here, but not me. Second wave was not much other than somewhere to work on moving water
moves. The current and eddy lines were a little squirrely here, Through out the course there was a
lot of boil lines, flow coming up from the bottom. Play wave was fun. There was a good amount of
height and flow, the sweet spot was pretty small. But after a while I was able to figure it out and
some vertical moves were possible, though I couldn't get any spins to work. This would be a good
step up from entrance - bigger, faster, but not too much pushier. Mid wave was a big wave train -
fun but nothing to stick to. Same with the Run out through the bottom - big wave train. I spent a
lot of time up at entrance and play wave - below that was just riding the wave trains to get out
and go back to the top. The bottom section would be great at this level for eddy and ferry
practices with different speeds of water.
August 30 2013 (1929 days ago)
st1lldancyn (155263)
Thanks to fellow ACA instructor Jeff B. for providing a good description of the Marge Cline
Whitewater Park: "It is better than 'Better than Nothing.'" This is evidenced by the fact that
folks have driven four hours from St. Louis to paddle it. When I asked, they told me it's worth the
drive when they have a whitewater jones going and the St. Francis isn't running. Living a mere 30
minutes away, it is a great place for locals like me to practice basic skills. People often drive
up to two hours to paddle the run, but those living six hours away may find the trip not worth it.
There has been great debate as to what rating this run is. Using the rating guidance contained on
the AW site, I would offer my opinion that it is a Class I+ run. Why? People who intend to simply
bomb it still require some corrective strokes to stay in the current. However, the squirrelly
eddies and difficult waves may elevate certain features to Class II if attempting to do more than
simply bomb the course. I've seen more than one Class IV+ paddler roll back up with a surprised
look on their face, as if to say 'what the hell was that?' when they let their guard down. Being an
engineered course it is relatively very safe; however, folks should not forget it is still a wild
river and swimmers should exercise due caution (i.e. defensive swimming) if they find themselves
out of their boats. The course begins at "entrance wave" (none of these are official, but are what
I call them) that at low flows can be used for surfing and flat spinning. At flows above around
1200-1500 the wave washes out. It is usually too shallow to do anything vertical. It actually
becomes more retentive as flow drops. Just down stream of entrance is an island. River left of the
island is "second wave" which, depending on flow, my allow some flat surfing. On river right of the
island is "play wave", a feature that is playable and changes its dynamics over a wide range of
flows. People have been known to throw a loop here, but it takes some effort to find the sweet
spot. The left and right flows come together and form into "middle wave", just upstream of the
pedestrian bridge that crosses over the run. The "middle" is a Class I feature that occasionally
offers some surf opportunity if one can catch one of the sweet spots. After the middle another
island splits the run. Although the river right channel was supposed to the challenge route, it
offers not much for the whitewater paddler. The river left channel also offers little except the
opportunity to practice catching eddies. The bottom offers bow stall and stern squirt
opportunities. The Marge Cline course is used by the Chicago Whitewater Association for Beginner I+
courses, and also by private outfitters such as The Yak Shack and Geneva Kayak as a venue for
lessons. However, the best use of the course is not as a teaching venue, but as a learning venue:
Those who have taken a beginner course and are proficient in self-rescue will find the challenging
eddy lines and variations of waves a great place to develop skill and build proficiency. A beginner
who takes a few trips to Yorkville, particularly with the assistance of a mentor, will find their
skill and confidence rise rapidly. The run is open year round. Although the river freezes over up
and downstream, water flows through the run continuously. Even when flow is so low that no water
flows over the accompanying dam, water will flow through the run. As always, paddle with a buddy.

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