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Canoe trip reveals beauty of Skokie Lagoons
Friday, July 24, 2009 Pioneer Press by Todd Shields
Sunshine broke through in columns when the gray morning cloud
cover moved east and naturalist Karen Holmes yelled, "That-a-way, to the
Twelve paddlers in five Grumman canoes headed for TowerRoadBridge over Skokie
Lagoons in the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Winnetka.
Organized by the Northbrook Park District, the 90-minute outing
was an authentic, up-close view of upper Midwest
wetland wildlife and flora.
The canoe flotilla traveled south to Willow Road, while our group saw several
sightings of water fowl, such as aggressive, low-flying black cormorants that
plunged underwater to grab fish with hooked beaks.
Holmes said for centuries the Chinese have utilized the voracious
birds, whereby they tie cords around their throats to prevent them from
swallowing caught fish on dives.
Four-foot-tall great blue herons flew in loping pairs, high up
into shoreline cottonwood trees, nearly invisible against the blue sky, green
foliage and gray bark.
"Don't get too close or you'll flush them out," said
Holmes, an educator and naturalist for Forest Preserve District of Cook County.
Terns, crackles, gold finches, mimicking catbirds and swallows
darted about shoreline shrubs and pink native prairie roses. Men in several
kinds of boats fished for walleye, blue gill, channel catfish and northern
Massive pillars of poison ivy engulfed mature willow trees half
way up, and we made room for a foot-wide snapping turtle swimming just below the
Chris Merenowicz, a Forest Preserve District resource manager,
said Skokie Lagoons and Busse Reservoir in Elk Grove were the two top sport
fisheries in northeast Illinois,
especially since 1994 when Skokie has been
annually restocked following a period of low fish population.
"The Skokie habitat is
varied with fish. The many downed trees and shrubs along the banks give fish
shelter and protection. We also put in 50 wooden fish cribs for more cover.
Most fishermen know where these cribs are located," Merenowicz said.
Skokie Lagoons are one of three biggest water bodies in Forest
Preserve District, joining Tampier Slew in Orland Park
and Busse Reservoir in Elk Grove Village.
Skokie Lagoons are seven connected bodies of water covering about
six miles, starting north at Lake
Cook Road near ChicagoBotanic Garden
and head south to Willow Road.
The North Branch Bike Trail parallels nearly the entire lagoon.
Specifically, the lagoons run in a valley west of Wilmette, Winnetka
and Glencoe and east of Edens Expressway.
Flowing through a valley marsh at depths between 6 and 8 feet, the
lagoon drains three large areas bounded by north and south land ridges and
empties water into the North Branch of the Chicago River
near Foster Avenue
and Pulaski Road.
From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corp. excavated the
swamp land, built dikes and put in three flood-control dams, converting the
marsh into today's popular recreation area.
Holmes was surprised not to spot a kingfisher -- another diving
bird -- that frequents Skokie Lagoon, and she said other common wildlife were
mink and muskrat.
Brenda Ewing, of Glenview, has
canoed with her two children in Wisconsin's
DoorCounty, but said Skokie Lagoons
presented much wildlife.
"I've never seen blue herons fly side by side, and we saw
lots of jumping fish. It was a good trip today," she said.
For more information about Forest Preserve District of Cook
County, visit www.fpdcc.com.