When we started noticing that more and more of our local customers were wary about using the Rock river we wondered why? So often we hear concern from residents of the Rockford area about using the river stating that “it’s dangerous”, or “it’s dirty.” We know that it’s neither of those things and we want to share with you why we love our Rock River and why you should too.
In our previous blog post about the rock river we introduced to you two sections of the river that we enjoy and paddle quite often during the paddle season. Though we paddle them all the time and feel safe doing so, there are many locals and customers that don’t feel the same way. We want you to love the river the same way we do and we want you to feel safe while enjoying the water. Some of the biggest concerns that we have been asked about are boat traffic, the cleanliness of the river water, and the Fordham dam.
Boat traffic and paddling safety:
On the stretch of the Rock River that we use the most (Martin Park south to the boat ramp at Riverview park) the major safety concern is speed boat traffic. This section of the river can be quite busy at peak times during the summer. However this doesn’t have to keep you off the water! There are some simple safety tips that will keep you safe while enjoying the Rock River even during high boat traffic times.
- Wear your PFD. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert paddler or just beginning the first step in being safe on the water is wearing your PFD at all times! It can’t help you if it’s not on!
- Know the river. This is pretty basic; know where you are going, scout the river ahead of time for concerns, and be aware of your surroundings.
- Stay close to the shore and paddle in a line. Larger watercraft and speedboats use the middle of the river. If you stay close to shore you will be out of their way and they will be out of your way! If you are going out in a large group it is always a good idea to form a line. This allows everyone in the group to paddle along the shore staying out of the middle of the river and away from boat traffic.
- Stay visible. Even though you might be in a bright colored boat it is hard to see at a distance. If you don’t think a boat can see you wave your paddle and wave your arms to get their attention. If you are paddling at sunrise or dusk have a light on your boat that makes you more visible. Cross the river where it is wide open and straight, do not cross blind behind a curve.
- Know what the busy times are. If boat traffic is the reason you feel unsafe try to avoid the busy times on the water. Usually weekends have more boat traffic than weekdays and evenings have more traffic than mornings.
- Follow the “rules of the road.” There are general rules to follow when paddling on busy waterways. It’s never a bad idea to brush up on the standards of traffic flow and right of way before heading out. Most of the rules are written for large bodies of water with shipping lanes and large vessels, however, these rules are applicable to paddling on the Rock as well. For example; stay to the right as if you were driving on the road and allow less agile vessels the right-of-way.
Yes, the water is clean!
People are often quite surprised that we use the Rock River as our primary body of water for rentals and trips. Why? Because they think that the water is dirty. The water in the Rock River has a cloudy, muddy appearance but that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe. The reason that the Rock River has that appearance is because it is a muddy bottom river that carries particles of native soil with it as it flows. The river was called Sinnissippi by the Sauk and Fox Indian tribes; meaning “rocky waters.” The large rocks that scattered the river banks and created a rock ford across the river (hence the name sake “Rockford”) that have since been covered by water because of over 20 dams that have changed the river flow and water level.
The EPA has done studies on water quality over the course of many years following the regulations put into place by The Clean Water Act. Information from an EPA study done in the year 2000 states that the water quality is good. The specific information about water quality is hard to find and sort through, but in general the water quality is safe for paddling, boating, and overall recreation. It is not recommended however that the water is used for drinking or washing. This means that the Rock River water is clean, safe for paddling, boating, skiing, and other recreational activities with no concerns. So gear up and head out on the water and enjoy what the Rock River has to offer!
The Damn Dam.
Ok seriously though, Dams are dangerous. If you know the risks and what to do while on the water the Fordham dam is nothing to worry about. The current of the river is slow enough that you should have no troubles paddling away from it if for some reason you get too close. But be warned currents often move faster the closer you get to the dam. If you are paddling south on the river there are multiple signs and buoys warning you of the dam ahead. There are a few simple things to remember when paddling a river that is blocked by a dam.
- Never, ever for any reason go over the dam. Plain and simple stay away from the dam and you will be safe.
- Stay away from the dam. This may sound repetitive but, don’t go over the dam and stay away from the dam on the downstream side as well. The undertow caused by the water rushing over the dam can be just as dangerous from the downstream side as it is from the upstream side.
- Find a safe spot to portage. This concept is a little more difficult here in Rockford because the Fordham dam is not easily portaged. You can take your boat out at the boat ramp at Riverview park (Prairie street) and call for a shuttle to avoid safety or logistical problems closer to the dam.
Dam safety is pretty straight forward. Stay away from the dam on both sides, and never go over the dam. If you can do those things then the dam wont interfere with your paddling experience. For more information about low head dams click here.
Gear up and head out:
Take some time to explore the river with us on any of our scheduled trips, rent on your own, or hire one of our experienced employees to take you out for a few hours. We can help you gear up and head out safely, so you can have fun without the worry!