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Fox River offers bounty of free things to do

Bikers travel the Fox River Trail in Geneva.
Bikers travel the Fox River Trail in Geneva.

As Sam Bennett sees it, there are few better ways to spend a warm, sunny day than standing – or sitting – on the side of a river, fishing rod in hand, waiting for a nibble.

For Bennett, of unincorporated St. Charles Township, who writes for and operates the blog, that enjoyment increases when the river full of fish essentially flows right past his home.

“I was able to take my 6-year-old down to Geneva the other day, just down the road,” Bennett said. 

“I handed her a pole and said, ‘Here, move your pole back and forth, like this,’” he said, demonstrating the technique as he awaited a bite. “If she can do it, in this river, anyone can do it.”

While Bennett’s preferred choice of recreation may not entice everyone, the Fox River abounds with a range of other playtime choices.

Those activities have given rise to a number of businesses in the region catering to those with a desire to play and relax along the river. Some partake in a number of pastimes – including boat rentals, charter paddleboat trips and dining on restaurant patios adjoining the river – that cost money.

But the river offers an array of recreational possibilities for those looking to spend less.

Many of those options center on the large number of parks and public lands, owned and maintained by local park districts and the Kane County Forest Preserve District, lining the Fox throughout Kane County.

Much of that public riverfront is tied together by a network of bicycle and pedestrian trails. And those trails, in turn, offer some of the best opportunities for free or low-cost recreation anywhere in the region.

“Any day the weather’s good, you can go up and down the Fox River Trail and see hundreds of people using the facilities at any point,” said John Hoscheit, president of the Kane County Forest Preserve District.

In St. Charles, for instance, the trail links together many of that community’s most popular parks, which, in turn, offers numerous choices for play, said Holly Cabel, director of recreation for the St. Charles Park District.

She noted that Ferson Creek Park lures anglers, while Boy Scout Island offers a boat launch.

At Pottawatomie Park, visitors can picnic or stroll through the park into downtown. And on the upcoming Independence Day holiday, visitors can take in free concerts in the park’s amphitheater, followed by a traditional fireworks display.

To the south, the trail will bring visitors to Mt. St. Mary Park, which also offers a skate park and the award-winning Sculpture in the Park public art exhibit.

“The river is such a natural draw,” Cabel said. “But we have a lot along the riverside to enhance that experience.”

Similar networks of parks and public sites also are linked by the trail in Geneva, Batavia and North Aurora, among others.

Cultural activities also have sprung up locally along the Fox, due to its blend of natural beauty and historic downtowns.

Throughout the summer, festivals – including St. Charles Riverfest, Geneva’s Swedish Days and Batavia’s Windmill City Fest – draw visitors to each community’s downtown riverfront area.

Other events get even closer to the river. The Fox Valley Folk Music & Storytelling Festival, for instance, is held on Geneva’s Island Park in September.

And in Batavia, the river serves as part of the playhouse, as the Shakespeare on Clark players turn Clark Island into an outdoor theater for two to three weeks each summer.

This year’s free productions will run from July 26 to Aug. 11, with nightly performances Thursday through Sunday each week.

However, the river’s main draw continues to be its abundance of nature-based activities and the opportunity to connect with nature, close to home.

Ecological education opportunities can be found at the Fox Valley Park District’s Red Oak Nature Center along the Fox River Trail near North Aurora. 

And less-traveled side trails branching off the main river trail can bring those on bicycles or on foot to places that can offer at least an illusion of solitude for a quiet lunch or moment of peace, all of which costs only the time needed to get there.

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