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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The designers of the bypass channel whitewater facility have suggested 240 cfs as the likely minimum for reasonable depth and formation of features. The 'sill' of the entry to the bypass is lower than the lip of the dam, so (at times of low flow in the river) the dam may be dry while all water flows through the bypass channel. There is a movable 'stop log' at the head of the bypass which can (to some extent) alter the flow into the course, but in practice, it is seldom if ever repositioned. It remains to be seen what the consensus opinion is on true min/max range for this waterpark. Recent reports at flows of only 110 cfs suggest there is still some play. In fact, one of the features actually becomes fairly retentive, allowing interesting practice for getting out of a benign but retentive hole.
Gauge/flow analysis (for Mongomery gauge based on USGS data 2002.10.01-2010.08.03)
Drainage area at gauge: 1,732 sq.mi.
Minimum daily mean flow (2004.08.24): 96 cfs
90% of time flow exceeds: 365 cfs
10% of time flow exceeds: 3430 cfs
Maximum daily mean flow (1951.05.01): 15,500 cfs
10/90 ratio ('flashy-ness'): 9.4 (under 3 is quite steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy')
Permits are not required for this reach.
This is a 'park and play' spot, so the 'shuttle' is just walking the riverside path upstream to or from your car (depending where you park). We therefore have set the automatic directions to show drive time, distance, and directions from your rather generic identified 'home location'.
You may use the text entry box below to enter a specific address to get drive time, distance, and directions to this play spot. While the button suggests a zip code, you can enter 'city, state', 'street address, city, state', or 'latitude longitude' (in just about any format).
IL WW fest
Center Wave Mid January 2011
Const Photo 4
Const Photo 3
Const Photo 2
Const Photo 1
Glen Palmer Dam Project Map
Yorkville Construction Zone
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