ST. CHARLES – For Tara Wolf of Sycamore and her two sons, taking a trip up and down the Fox River on Wednesday on the Fox River Queen paddlewheel riverboat was a way to enjoy not being cooped up in their house.
"It's beautiful out and we're happy that things are starting to open again," Wolf said. "It's nice to see all the scenery and hear about the history of the Fox River."
The St. Charles Park District's iconic paddlewheel riverboats were in operation again starting Wednesday as a result of the region moving into Phase 4 of Gov. JB Pritzker's Restore Illinois plan. Based on Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the two boats are operating at 50 percent capacity.
This is the 75th year the paddlewheel riverboats have been in operation and the second year the St. Charles Park District has been operating them. The district purchased the St. Charles Belle II and the Fox River Queen paddlewheel riverboats in 2019 after Rich Anderson, owner and operator of the St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats for 32 years, decided to retire.
Anderson, the second generation owner of St. Charles Paddlewheel Riverboats, inherited the business from his father and company founder Chet Anderson in the late 1980s. The family-owned business had offered daily sightseeing trips and private group charters from Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles since 1945.
Normally, the riverboats are operating by mid-May. Liam Keigher, captain of the Fox River Queen paddlewheel riverboat, was glad to be back behind the ship's wheel.
"It's really good to be back on the river," Keigher said. "I missed the people and scenery."
This is his 26th season of working on the paddlewheel riverboats. The Park District is encouraging those boarding the paddlewheel riverboats to wear face coverings.
Keigher said the face coverings and the other measures the Park District is taking is just part of the "new normal."
"Generally, it feels the same, there's just another things going on at the same time," he said. "We're wearing masks and cleaning more. This is the new normal."
The Park District's Swanson Pool has also reopened for recreational and lap swimming along with the Splash Park at Otter Cove Aquatic Park. Reservations will be required at both facilities and each facility will be able to hold a maximum of 50 people based on the guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health.