The Access Project



Mission Statement:

The Access Project works with government agencies and public and private landowners to provide safe, legal and adequate access for human powered watercraft to the waterways of Illinois, provides information to paddlers and the general public about access, and advocates the creation of regional systems of watertrails throughout Illinois

How we carry out this mission:
The Access Project of the Illinois Paddling Council has partnered with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (now the Regional Planning Board) and Openlands to research, write and implement the Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Trail Plan.

We provide information about access, watertrails and Illinois water law and by publishing and distributing the NE IL Regional Water Trail Plan and the Northeastern Illinois Water Trails Map.

The Access Project works with Openlands to help organize water trail working groups composed of site owners and paddlers to implement the recommendations of NE IL Regional Water Trails Plan.

The Access Project supports the creation of watertrails around the state and has developed a A Paddlers Guide to Developing Watertrails

We work with paddlers and planners around the state to develop watertrails and provide letters of support to access providers seeking grants to acquire, build and improve access sites.

We provide stewardship for designated Illinois water trails by partnering with Openlands to create and sponsor Illinois Water TrailKeepers.

In recent years The Access Project has worked with the Lake County Forest Preserve District to open Sterling Lake and other inland lakes to paddlers, and with the DuPage County Forest Preserve District to allow paddlers to launch and land from forest preserves along Salt Creek.

In northwestern Illinois The Access Project has worked with local govenments to create watertrails on Yellow Creek and the Pecatonica River.

Access Resources

The Access Project provides information to paddlers and the general public about access sites, watertrails and Illinois water law.


Logical Lasting Launchsites

A Guide to Boating and Canoe Access Development in Illinois

Illinois Boat Area Access Development Grant Program

The National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program

Water Trails

North American Water Trails at Sea Kayaker Magazine

Northeastern Illinois Water Trails at Openlands

Northeastern Illinois Water Trails at GORP

Nippersink Creek Water Trail

Pecatonica River Water Trail

Water Law

The List of Illinois Public Waters

written in 1998 by Gary R. Clark, IDNR Office of Water Resources, Ed Hoffman, IDNR Division of Planning

Legal Opinion on the definition of "Public waters or public bodies of water"
written by past Illinois Attorney General Neil F. Hartigan.

"Accordingly, it is my opinion that the phrase "public waters or public bodies of water", as used in "AN ACT" in relation to the regulation of the rivers, lakes and streams of the State of Illinois", includes those waters which with improvements could be rendered navigable and those waters which either connect with navigable waters or discharge into navigable waters..."


Support Cleaner Rivers NOW!

For the first time in thirty years, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) has proposed stronger water quality standards for the Chicago Area Waterways and Lower Des Plaines River . The improved standards are essential to protect the growing number of recreational users and resident wildlife that depends on the quality of these river systems.

The new standards would:

  • Require the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) to disinfect treated sewage that flows into our waterways from its North Side, Calumet and Stickney wastewater treatment plants. This would kill or greatly reduce pathogens, such as giardia and salmonella that can infect people and wildlife.
  • Better regulate temperature and increase the amount of oxygen in the water to support fish, mussels and other aquatic species.

For more information , visit: , , or the Illinois Pollution Control Board site at:

Download the Petition (2mb PDF file) filed by the Chicago Area Sea Kayaking Association (CASKA) and co-signed by the Illinois Paddling Council, Prairie State Canoeists, Prairie Coast Paddlers, Chicago Kayak Club, Chicago Whitewater Club and local paddlesport businesses.

Restricted Waters - Recreational Use bans

During most of April 2008 the Des Plaines River in Lake County and the upper and middle sections of the Fox River were closed to the public for recreational use. The IPC has contacted IDNR to question the criteria by which these restrictions are determined, imposed and lifted.

IPC has also set up a email alert system to notify paddlers of when these restrictions are imposed and removed.

Click on the links below to read the law authorizing IDNR to impose and remove these restrictions.

Section 2030.15  Designation of Restricted Waters

Section 2030.80  Hazardous Navigation Conditions – Designated Restricted Boating Areas


Lake Michigan Coastal Management Plan

The Illinois Coastal Management Program (CMP) offers the opportunity for grant monies to aid the efforts in planning and implementing public access and recreational resources throughout the Illinois coastal zone. The purpose of this Issue Paper is to provide a  framework of perspectives, focus, concerns and interests that will benefit the decision  making as to how CMP grant monies can be best utilized with regard to access and  recreational resources.

Upon ICMP approval, Illinois will be eligible to receive approximately $2 million per year, which will fund a grants program to implement local projects. Local and state agencies and non-profit organizations would be eligible to apply for and receive funds. A few examples of how other States/communities have used these funds include:

  • low-cost construction projects such as dune walkovers and boat launches
  • planning and creation of beach access points
  • reinvigorating economically depressed waterfront areas
  • preventing and monitoring beach erosion
  • providing technical assistance on shore protection and bluff stabilization
  • providing assistance for local planning in coastal areas

Two sections of the Issue Paper are presented here.

Shore Access and Recreation
New access and recreation resources will likely continue to be in demand as there is continuing growth in an urban population interested in water-related recreational activities. The growing popularity of canoe and kayak recreation along the Inland Waterways is just one example of this growing interest. There is also interest in further integrating the Illinois lakeshore and the Inland Waterways into the plan for the Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Trails (Openlands Project 2007).

Public Access and Recreational Resources
Kayaks and canoes are popular, low-cost watercrafts that provide healthful and  environmentally safe water recreation. Interest in these types of watercraft continues to grow. Public facilities for the efficient launch and recovery of kayaks, canoes, and other  human-powered watercraft should be an integral part of the parkland bordering Lake  Michigan and the Inland Waterways. Studies would be beneficial to establish a management plan for the safe use by paddlers along the Inland Waterways, particularly  along the Main Stem Chicago River.

IDNR Coastal Management Plan

Read the full Illinois Coastal Management Plan Issue Paper