Monday morning I had a few errands to run and one of them included sitting.
The parking lot that overlooks the Yorkville dam was empty. Snowplows had yet to make their way to a place few come during the winter. I parked in the spot nearest the river. The snow was coming down pretty hard, but I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the eagle if it were cruising the area. No such luck. Ducks and geese worked the shallow riffles below the rebuilt dam.
I found myself staring at the water flowing over the new stepped down design of the dam. Their didn’t seem to be a strong flow and a later check of the stream flow gauge showed that it was flowing at about 730 cfs. Which is just about normal.
The new kayak chute built along the south side of the dam had a pretty strong looking flow. I guess that’s to be expected since it was narrower and the water gets concentrated as it flows through.
I remembered a rumor I had heard about a year or so earlier. There’s a chance that during low water events the water will stop flowing over the dam completely and only go through the kayak chute. The chute is technically still under construction and not officially open to the public. I’ve stopped by a few times and talked to what appears to be the supervisor. I’ve never brought up this rumor. Better to just let it happen and if true, probably nothing to be done about it.
2005 was the driest year in recorded history and the lowest stream gauge reading I remember seeing was 170 cfs. Prior to that I had never seen it dip below 300, but during the summer months it wasn’t unusual for it to go below 500 and stay that way for quite some time. That low year was very unusual. Mill Creek had all but dried up. A couple of ditches that always had flowing water had dried up completely. I think if it wasn’t for the outflows from treatment plants the river would have dried up even more, but the plants provide a constant source of new water. Even if it is minimal.
Since 2005 we have had nothing but high water. It was rare for the river to come down to a normal level let alone dip low. Whether or not the water coming over the dam will completely stop now remains to be seen. If it does, I guess it makes sense to have that happen. The new kayak chute is hoped to be a draw for Yorkville. I have heard numerous times that the town hopes to bring kayakers in from not only all over the state, but to be a draw for kayakers nationwide.
I have my doubts about that. The chute is only 1,100 feet long, not even a quarter of a mile. I may be wrong, but I have a hard time imagining kayakers traveling long distances to play in 1,100 feet of water. Not too far away are the Vermillion and Little Vermillion Rivers. On these waters a few miles of kayaking can be had when the water levels are right. If you’re traveling, why not travel there.
The first week of October 2010 I was checking out the kayak chute when they were letting water through in order to run flow tests.
I talked to Yorkville mayor Valerie Burd and a gentleman that was thinking of opening a kayak shop at this spot on the river. I let them know my concern of how I didn’t think this was going to be a nationwide draw.
I suggested that they include the next half mile of the river, at least, in any promotion of the chute. I’ve waded that far down and more and there are some pretty nice riffle pool setups that may not have the excitement of the faster chute, but would still be worth exploring for visiting kayakers.
Hopefully they gave my suggestion some thought.
The end of October found me back at the chute taking more pictures. The berm that had been holding back the river was being removed and the water was now flowing freely through the chute.
For the next few weeks I would stop by and check on the progress of the berm removal. One day it was just gone. I wish I would have had my camera with me that day.
The hard core kayakers I know are much like the hard core river and stream waders I know. We are very aware of river laws and Who Owns the Rivers.
If we are given a public access point, we disappear up or down stream for as far as we feel like going. This day there were nearly a dozen kayakers playing in the chute. Keep in mind the chute is not open to the public yet. A Conservation Police Officer was climbing on the adjoining rocks. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get their attention to shag them out of the chute or if he was there to make sure nobody got hurt. Either way he was being ignored as the kayakers spun and jostled in the quick flow of water.
I’m not sure when the official opening will be, but there is still a fair amount of work that needs to get done along the shore of the Bicentennial Riverfront Park before it’s safe to let people go wander around. Fishermen already bypass the chute to go fish around the dam. I imagine as soon as ice is off the river the kayakers will show up. An official opening may become moot and more of an occasion for politicians to pat themselves on the back.
While I was sitting staring at the dam I was wondering about the new stair stepped design. I had actually fought pretty hard to get this dam removed, but it must now be lived with. I couldn’t help thinking that if they are going to stair step a dam, why not make shorter risers and longer steps. Six inch tall risers with 10 foot long steps. The step would slope down a couple of inches from one to the next.
Denil fish ladders are generally used for fish passage and one was installed on the north side of the dam. I don’t know why anyone thinks that a fish is going to go look for a 4 foot wide opening at the end of a 400 foot wide dam, but what do I know.
Fish passage is probably the main issue when it comes to whether or not a dam should stay or go. Why not go with longer steps. I know some fish can get past 2 foot tall dams, I’ve watched them do it on a small creek. Why not make it even easier on them.
With the kayak chute running wide open all the time, you have to wonder why a Denil fish ladder was installed at all. From what little I understand, fish will feel the strongest current and head up that. The kayak chute becomes a much more efficient fish ladder.
While I sat and watched flowing river water free of ice, I had what has become a rare winter fishing thought.
I would think the walleye fishing would be pretty good along here right about now.