Each of the last two years I have guided a group of lucky paddlers for a Skokie Lagoons moonlight paddle. A moonlight paddle anywhere is automatically an adventure. Usually when I have paddled at night it has been an unintended unfortunate circumstance from a trip that took too long due to poor planning from a stretch of river that was longer than anticipated or from unforeseen hazards. I will never forget paddling on the Kickapoo River for a 20 mile scouting trip with bats circling our boat because one logjam after another slowed us down. For once, I got to paddle in the moonlight and it was planned that way.
Skokie Lagoons moonlight paddle
Each year the Friends of the Chicago River guide participants who either sign up through their website or through a collaboration with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County on a moonlight paddle. The two trips take place during the full moons in August and September.
The paddle starts in early evening, which is nice because we get two natural phenomenons for the price of one. We start off enjoying the sunset and then get paddle in the glow of the full moon on the way back. Paddlers start off at the canoe launch on Tower Road and then head to an island for a campfire with smores, hot dogs, and stories.
Paddling at dusk is perfect to also enjoy the animal and bird life at its most active time. Great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, green herons, muskrats, deer, Canadian geese, and even osprey and bald eagles are possible. We were fortunate enough on our last trip to see a doe with two fawns.
Through the Looking Glass on Psychedelic Island
Behind the scenes, canoe guides Dave and Marvin and others do an amazing job of setting up the island for our guests. They head out there several hours before the rest of the group and beat down the undergrowth and make a pier with wooden planks to make things easier for the rest of the guides and the guests. They make a campfire and set up the food and most impressively light up the island with an Alice in Wonderland worthy set up.
Once the hot dogs, potato chips, and smores are consumed it is story time. Tom Judge takes center stage here with a ten minute concise history of the Skokie Lagoons. The presentation covers the period from its conception during the New Deal years through the Cold War. See the Youtube video below for last year’s presentation.
Since we paddle out during the sunset, the way back is actually the moonlight paddle portion of the trip. We don glow sticks around our neck and turn off all lights as we backtrack to the Tower Road landing in silence (except for the constant hum of I-94). Despite the sound of the interstate, it is a soothing experience paddling only in the luminescent light of the moon. We do not get to enjoy the outdoors at night much in the city and suburbs as most forest preserve options close at sunset or even earlier.
In homage to Pink Floyd, the last trip ended with an Astronomy lesson thanks to the Chicago Astronomer. We were treated to a viewing of the full moon from a high powered telescope. We were all in agreement that this was the perfect way to end the evening. Check out the Chicago Astronomer website for some amazing photos from the event. We agreed, if possible, that all trips should end with this awesome opportunity. Both the guests and the guides raved about the delight of seeing the moon and its mountains and seas with such high powered equipment.
If this is a trip you would like to experience, check out the Friends of the Chicago River website. Sign up as quickly as possible when the trips gets announced next year because they usually sell out.
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