Recreation & Destinations

A Boatload of Fun: Kishwaukee Paddlefest Returns

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Whether you’re a paddling newbie or a diehard enthusiast, this opportunity to travel down the Kishwaukee River promises a memorable summertime experience.

At Kishwaukee Paddlefest, participants can enjoy about two hours of kayaking before arriving at a riverbank party complete with food, music and merchandise for purchase. (Dawn Wulf Photography photos)

At Kishwaukee Paddlefest, participants can enjoy about two hours of kayaking before arriving at a riverbank party complete with food, music and merchandise for purchase. (Dawn Wulf Photography photos)

Summertime in northern Illinois is a time to relax, unwind and enjoy the few short months of warm weather in the Midwest.

Bob North, a Rockford area paddling enthusiast, plans to enjoy the scenery as he canoes down the Kishwaukee River from Baumann Park, in Cherry Valley, to the Rockford Lithuanian Park at this years Kishwaukee Paddlefest on July 27.

In its fifth year, Paddlefest is put on by the Rockford Lithuanian Club (RLC), a private social club of which North is vice-president. Shuttles begin running at 9 a.m. and are available every few hours into the afternoon. An 18-passenger van with an attached trailer will load up paddlers and their vessels for a 15-minute drive from the club to Baumann Park, where participants begin a roughly two-hour paddle down the Kish. Food and live music await paddlers when they finish the journey.

Rocktown Adventures, a local retailer specializing in outdoor activities, provides kayak rentals to experienced paddlers. Never paddled before? Good news – Rocktown Adventures offers lessons throughout the season.

“The Kish is a small, mostly friendly river,” says George Wulf, a Paddlefest veteran. “But if you don’t know how to control a canoe, it can get a little tricky.”

Wulf not only books the entertainment for Paddlefest but performs with his band, Swingbilly RFD. The five-man band from Rockford plays classic honky-tonk music from the ’40s and ’50s.

Paddle enthusiast Jerry Vandiver, an award-winning songwriter, and musician who has written hits for country music stars like Tim McGraw, Phil Vassar, Lonestar, and the Oak Ridge Boys, has been performing at Paddlefest since the beginning.

Vandiver might play with a musician or two as the One Match Band, but other times he brings one of Nashville’s many talented fiddle players to accompany him as he plays guitar and sings.

Campers can enjoy a slow start to the morning before loading up their gear on to the shuttle. Around noon, RLC members fire up the grill and start selling brats, burgers, hot dogs and pulled pork for hungry paddlers as they trickle in from the river. Music begins at 1 p.m. and then the party is in full swing.

“Once the music starts and everyone’s getting back from their first paddle, it starts picking up,” says North.

Also at the party is Leinenkugels Brewing Company out of Chippewa Falls, Wis. A proud sponsor of Paddlefest, their seasonal brew Canoe Paddler is available on tap. The Kölsch-style beer has a slightly spicy flavor with a clean finish, perfect for relaxing on or near the river. A variety of domestic light beers and soft drinks are also available and don’t forget to purchase some RLC merch, like t-shirts commemorating the 2019 festival and fresh honey from beehives on the property.

Guests are welcome to stay the weekend in tents or campers right on the riverbank. Keep in mind there are no sewage hookups, though there are outhouses and a well-water pump.

More information can be found on the Kishwaukee Paddlefest Facebook page. For the first time, RLC will be charging $5 admission for anyone who wants to paddle – a small price to pay for a boatload of fun.

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