Businesses happy to see boating restrictions ease on Chain, Fox River
As boaters got word Friday they can return to the Chain O' Lakes and Fox River, business owners who watched weeks of revenue wash away with the floodwaters hope this weekend will jump-start a strong second half of the season to help them recover.
"I'm hoping a lot of pent-up demand for boating shows up this weekend, and that stays the case for the remainder of the boating season," said Blarney Island owner Rob Hardman. "Everyone needs a strong second half to survive."
The Fox Waterway Agency opened the Chain and Fox River north from the Stratton Lock and Dam in McHenry without restrictions Friday. The decision to lift the no-wake status on the Chain and upper river allows boats to travel at normal speeds.
The Fox Lake-based agency also upgraded the lower river from the McHenry dam south to the Algonquin dam from closed to no-wake. That status means boats are allowed on the lower river but at speeds of no more than 5 mph, or fast enough to create a wake.
Nearly three weeks of extensive flooding along the Chain and Fox River damaged homes and property in several communities, including Fox Lake and Antioch, and has cost businesses thousands of dollars in lost revenue.
Torrential downpours July 11 and 12 in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin led officials to close the waterway to boating. A 7-inch rainfall the evening of July 11 through the morning of July 12 caused the Chain and Fox River to swell, followed by flooding as stormwater from Wisconsin moved down the river.
Despite the improvement, remnants of the nearly three-week flood crisis on the popular waterway remain as agency officials advised that boaters should be on the lookout for floated debris in the entire waterway.
"We're glad the lakes are finally open. It's the wrong time of the year for a flood for us. We lost a lot of business and spent a lot of money putting everything back into condition," said Jim Bowgren, co-owner of Ben Watts Marina in Fox Lake. "We're by no means done. It's a hardship, customers are mad, everybody is mad."
Bob Nordmeyer, the marina's general manager, said there's still a lot of damage and debris, including piers, garbage cans, coolers, decks and deck boxes, that must be cut up and hauled away.
"I'd say about 75 percent of our piers are damaged and we have some trouble getting customers to their boats," he said. "When the floodwaters recede, people believe it's over. But, honestly, that's when the stress begins."
Jim Maki of Wauconda was at Ben Watts Marina to check out the condition of his boat.
"Just making sure everything is still fine with the boat after the high waters; first time I've been out here in 2½ weeks. I haven't been able to get to the boat," Maki said. "Looks like it's held up relatively well."
• Daily Herald photographer Bob Chwedyk contributed to this report.