Kankakee River State Park is an 8,300-acre (3,400ha) state park in the U.S. state of Illinois. The park was formed from land donated by a local businessman and former governor Pat Quinn after his term as governor ended in 2015. It lies along the Kankakee River between Bradleyville and Goreville. The river itself forms part of its southern boundary. On December 7, 2012, the park suffered severe damage resulting from a tornado that struck the area. Damage included uprooting trees, breaking glass, and snapping electrical wires.
The first half of Kankakee River State Park comprises several smaller parks that are all contiguous with each other, making it ideal for visitors interested in seeing wildlife and plants close up without having to travel across wide areas. These include Boneyard Hollow Woods, Brinkerhoff Grove, Camp Reynolds, Davis Creek Prairie Preserve, Houlton Wye Marsh, Jordan Prairie Preserve, Leland Cove, Little Pine Island, Rock Bluff Nature Preserve, Scenic View Woods, and Willdorf Beach State Park.
The second phase of the park includes four additional small parks, two large parks, and one connecting unit. Buck Run Prairie Preserve, Driftwood Ridge Woodlands, Hemlock Point Peninsula, and Oakwoods Unit comprise the northern section of the park; while Sandburg Wilderness Area, Shady Lane Woods, and Wildcat Woods make up the southern portion. The River Bend Farm Arboretum features many rare species and cultivars of plants, plus more than 300 species of trees, shrubs, and perennials. Visitors can see why this arboretum has been called “The Botanical Garden of North Central Illinois.” There are eight miles (13km) of hiking trails within the park, but since this is such a big park, most hikers will want to use the trailhead located in one of the nine designated wilderness areas. There are also 14 miles (23km) of equestrian trails. Out of the 274 campsites available, 189 are open year round, 24 sites are seasonally closed, and 61 sites are reserved for horse campers only. Only registered horses may stay overnight in the park. No pets are allowed. Modern restrooms facilities are provided at no charge.
Half of the campsites are available for self-registration on a first come, first served basis, while the remainder require reservations. Advance camping requires reserving both a campsite and a seasonal cabin. Cabin reservations must be made far enough in advance to allow time for construction of the campsite. Group tenting accommodates up to six people in a regular site, or up to 40 people in a partial hookup site. Advance campsite reservation fee is waived for groups of 20 or more. Regular sites have 50 Amp electric service hookups, and partial hookup sites have 20 Amps hookups. Picnic tables, grills, and fire rings are common amenities found throughout the park. Playgrounds and soccer fields are available during the summer months. An extensive network of trails allows visitors to hike anywhere in the park. Snowmobiles are permitted in certain parts of the park when there’s snow cover greater than 60 inches (150cm).
Approximately 5 miles (8.0km) of beachfront are public access areas where lifeguards are not stationed. The main entrance to the park is located at 157th Avenue and Route 13. There are nine additional entrances around the perimeter of the park. Entrance fees are only charged from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. Daily vehicle entry is $7 per car. Annual pass holders can enter for free every day. Passes good for three days or a week are also available. The park closes at dusk, so the earlier you arrive the better your chances of finding a parking spot. Most of the roads are paved, although some are gravel, and all are well maintained. Signs demarcate the boundaries of the different sections of the park, and provide information about the animals and plants present. Maps of the whole park and individual units are available at the park office.
On December 6, 2014, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law an agreement to sell 3,000 acres (1,200ha), including much of the future site of the new park, to the highest bidder starting at $6 million. A sale price for the entire parcel had been sought by local activists who wanted to prevent further residential development on the site. Prior attempts to purchase the property through the government’s normal channels had failed due to lack of funds.
After the sale was announced, local resident Bob Peterson began organizing efforts to save the remaining parcels from being sold off. He founded “Friends of Kankakee,” which soon grew to over 100 volunteers working toward this end. In September 2018, after nearly 700 hours of negotiation with various agencies, including the federal government, the City of Chicago, and the state of Illinois, the Department of Natural Resources and the White County Conservation Board agreed to take possession of 57 properties, representing 2,936 acres (1,156ha), under leaseback arrangements with their respective owners. This marked a significant victory for those opposed to the loss of open space around the Kankakee River.
However, even after acquiring these valuable parcels, it still left 469 acres (190ha) up for sale. Friends of Kankakee continued to organize opposition to the sales, and were joined in this effort by local environmental organization Vibes & Grits. Ultimately, the DNR reconsidered and decided not to go ahead with the sales, thus preserving another important patch of wild nature. The final result was a net gain of 1,144 acres (463ha) for the people and the environment of north central Illinois.
Several miles of shoreline along the Kankakee River are accessible to:
- water sports
Winter Activities include:
- Cross-country skiing
- ice fishing